It’s about a couple of hours' drive, so we set off
early, around dawn, to beat the traffic; and Jon,
the driver, says we’ll pull in at the Maylands Café –
which opens at seven for the men going to work
on Hemel industrial estate. Yes, we’ll get a fry-up.
And after twenty years of just-warm porridge,
this sounds good. Hot and greasy; faintly illicit.
It’s one of those normal grey-wash mornings,
but Maylands is warm and steamy with men
who aren’t saying much, in fact nothing at all,
as they get their sausages and beans and fried slice
down and dig through ‘The Sun’.
There’s no juke box now
playing Chubby Checker or The Shadows,
no cigarette smoke to hint how a beery adulthood
would taste, playing darts and allowed to swear.
There’s no pin-table like back in ’61, before all this –
when I didn’t know that sex would make me feel
like a dog chewing gum; and how I’d want
to bow and chant from somewhere deep.
Now there’s just
some gleaming screen with lights running in circles
and changing colour. Ready for the game
but no one playing. The tables are still plastic-topped
and easily wiped, and the bottles of brown sauce
have stood since boyhood days with their mouths
thickly clogged – and the salt shakers,
they still won’t give a grain. Some things don’t change.
The waitress is busty, young, blonde with coral lips.
She steers her tight-clothed curves through the tables
to tilt over us with plates and ‘There you go, m’love.’
A few nerve endings tinkle like an old cat just stumbled
across the keys of a piano in a back room somewhere –
but no one’s judging anyone. There are three
empty chairs around the nun, but no jokes or stares.
Early morning men.
You only know what season it is
by how densely all the breathed-out steam
mists the window. Whether it’s a ghostly blush,
or like some vacant soul – so you draw a face
and write your name with a squeaky finger;
while on the cold grim days, it’s nameless,
running with self-created tears.
The hands on the clock
twitch to twenty past. Jon pays.
We're fed and done; the monastery’s not far.
Outside it’s grey and weatherless. Another day;
a day in this time we’ve embodied, when –
and I don’t know why – the world and nirvana,
and all these journeys, they’re really good enough.
Amaravati: ‘the Deathless Realm’, a reference to nirvana and also a group of huts and buildings that make up a Buddhist monastery near Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire.