Cliff Yates - Three poems

Cliff Yates


Never mind Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump,
looking back over your shoulder, a basket of crows,
a boat across the water with ancestors at your back;
how about our own version of ‘Immense’ here in Brum –
strategic selfies blown up canvas-size.

I’ll carry my dad’s bag of tools, wear one of his berets,
ride his old bike, wear a fairisle pullover
under brown denim overalls, and clean up my boots.
I’ll pack his longest screwdriver, brace & bit, claw hammer.
Bring your camera and we’ll choose our sites:
Paradise Circus, the Jewellery Quarter, Snow Hill,
Victoria Square, Gas Street, that bend in the canal

and the fisherman with the gear, forever
reeling in, dismantling his rod, setting up again
never mind the fish and the paraphernalia,
it’s gazing at the float in the cold, gazing at the water.

John Walker didn’t paint Seal Point when the tide was in,
he waited for the detritus, the stink.
‘Tidal Change’, ‘Fishing with Tom and Les’,
‘Looking in’, ‘John’s Bay Pollution’, paint as mud:
pick up this coloured mud, he said, and turn it into air.
Stripes, zigzags and fish, Aboriginal bark painting,
his dad in Passchendaele, World War l.
Where there aren’t any footprints, you make your own.

*Meryl McMaster, As Immense as the Sky and John Walker, New Paintings, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, Dec 2019 – Feb 2020.

It’s my Birthday we go to Ledbury

And after lunch in Chez Pascal (I cooked
these mince pies for your birthday
I head back with the kids in our old Fiesta,
Luke driving: Tom Waits, Wolf Parade,
‘Safe as Milk’, and he gives me for my birthday

a white frisbee (why did he choose white?)
Discraft 175 gram Ultra Star Sport Disc
electric blue lettering that changes
colour when you tilt it. For supper, takeaway  
Fat Toni pizzas, the one with the artichoke

but first we try out the frisbee on the field
before it gets dark. When Gill comes to find us
the moon’s over the hill but she can still
hear our voices and see the white frisbee
flying between us catching the light.


Red Sky Lift

It’s lunchtime just forty minutes so I take
the stairs, not wait for the lift and head out
through the automatic doors into the winter sunshine.
In the Students’ Union I check out the headlines
and buy a Twix: I haven’t bought one of these
 for twenty years
, I say to the woman
behind the counter. Well don’t wait twenty
before the next one
, she says. It’s more like
forty, I realise, unwrapping it – morning break
in the printing factory, something
to look forward to, like ‘Mr Fantasy’
on the turntable or Quicksilver
Messenger Service.
                                 I cut across to the Doug
Ellis Sports Centre and the art deco swimming pool.
I rarely go swimming but there’s something relaxing
about the smell of chlorine, the stretch of blue
under those massive beams, the slow lane
and the slower lane, the lifeguard
in her red tracksuit.
                               The Twix half gone,
I head for the library for a takeaway decaf,
then back in the Main Building the red sky lift
is on its way down for once, and only five
of us waiting we’ll easily fit in.

Copyright © Cliff Yates, 2020