Langley Lane (2013)

Jacob Polley

Stand up straight, my son. Don’t slouch.
Mother, I’m not slouching.
There’s nothing you need hide from me.
You know I don’t like touching.

A mother must – it’s in my hands
to touch what’s mine so briefly,
to touch my son for one small proof
that he’s still strong and loves me.

Mother, I wish you weren’t at home
and I could sit in peace.
I’d hoped to meet the dark alone
and not to cause a fuss.

My son, I’m bound to love no less
the child who brings me pain.
My son, what spreads across your shirt?
You need not hide a stain.

What I hide won’t be undone
and I’d not see your face
to spare myself the sight of one
whose grief is my disgrace.

Take a chair, my son, you’re tired.
Drink a glass of milk.
You’re up, you’re down. Your brain’s still soft.
Your adulthood half built.

You’re pale, my son – you’ll fade away:
you need a bite to eat.
Once I was young and like you swayed
unsteady on my feet –

Mother, soon I’ll get my rest
so while I can I’ll stand.
My son, what’s loose at your left wrist?
What’s spilling from your hand?

Mother, my hand is full of shame.
It’s pouring from my heart.
I’ve walked it in from Langley Lane
where trouble’s known to start.

If trouble starts, you’ve said to me,
just turn and walk away.
But Langley Lane’s blind corner led
to five who blocked my way.

You’re on our turf, one said, and spat.
The youngest-looking shoved
me first; I shoved him harder back.
He punched me in the chest.

The leaves were still. The sun came out
to scatter coins of light
and I saw gripped in his right fist
a little silver spike.

A spike at which I stared, surprised –
a bloody silver spike
at which he also stared, surprised,
our two boys’ looks alike.

The sun went in. A siren moaned.
Clouds crawled across the blue.
They grabbed my phone. I started home –
what else was there to do?

My son, you walked from Langley Lane?
I walked from Langley Lane.
I took small steps and often stopped
to breathe around the pain.

My son, you walked from Langley Lane.
I walked from Langley Lane.
I held myself to slow the stain
and walked from Langley Lane.

Learn more about the language of this poem in the
Oxford English Dictionary:

turf