by Simon Armitage

Came we then to the place abovementioned,
crossed its bristled threshold through robotic glass doors,
entered its furry heat, its flesh-toned fluorescent light.
Thus with wire-wrought baskefs we voyaged,
and some with trolleys, back wheels flipping like trout tails,
cruised the narrow canyons twixt cascading shelves,
the prow of our journeying cleaving stale ai.
Legion were the items that came tamely to hand:
five stainless steel teaspoons, ten corn-reliet plasters,
the busy bear pedal bin liners fragranced with country lavender,
the Disney design calendar and diary set, three cans of Vimto,
cornucopia ot potato-based snacks and balm tor a sweet tooth,
toys and games, goods of Orient made, and ot Cathay,
all under the clouded eye of CCTV,
beyond the hazard cone where serious chutney spillage had occurred.
Then emerged souls: the duty manager with a tace like Doncaster,
mumbling, "For so much, what shall we give in relurn?
The blood-stained employee of the month,
sobbing on a woolsack ot fun-tur rugs,
many unitormed servers, spectral, dritting between aisles.
Then came Elpenor, our old friend Elpenor,
slumped and shrunken by the Seasonal Producis display.
In strangled words I managed
"How art thou come to these shady channels, into hell's ravine?
And he:
"lo loan sharks I owe the bone and marrow ot my all.
Then Walt Whitman, enquiring politely ot the delivery boy.
And trom Special Occasions came torth Tiresias,
dead in lite, alive in death, cider-scented and sock-less,
Oxtam-clad, shaving cuts to both cheeks.
And my own mother reaching out, slippinga tin of stewing steak
to the skirt pocket of her wedding dress,
blessed with a magician's fouch, practiced in need.

But never until the valley widened at the gated brink
did we open our lips to fish out those corn-coloured coins,
those minted obols, hard won tokens graced with our monarch's head,
kept hidden beneath the tongue's eel, blood-tasting,
both ornament and sateguard, ot armour made.
And paid forthwith, then broke surtace

and breathed extraordinary daylight into starved lungs,
steered tor home through precincts and parks scalded by polar winds,
ladened with whatnot, lightened of golden quids.

The Unaccompanied

Last updated March 07, 2023