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Best Famous Tony Harrison Poems

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Long Distance I

 Your bed's got two wrong sides.
You life's all grouse.
I let your phone-call take its dismal course: Ah can't stand it no more, this empty house! Carrots choke us wi'out your mam's white sauce! Them sweets you brought me, you can have 'em back.
Ah'm diabetic now.
Got all the facts.
(The diabetes comes hard on the track of two coronaries and cataracts.
) Ah've allus liked things sweet! But now ah push food down mi throat! Ah'd sooner do wi'out.
And t'only reason now for beer 's to flush (so t'dietician said) mi kidneys out.
When I come round, they'll be laid out, the sweets, Lifesavers, my father's New World treats, still in the big brown bag, and only bought rushing through JFK as a last thought.

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 How you became a poet's a mystery!
Wherever did you get your talent from?

I say: I had two uncles, Joe and Harry-
one was a stammerer, the other dumb.
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Marked with D

 When the chilled dough of his flesh went in an oven
not unlike those he fuelled all his life,
I thought of his cataracts ablaze with Heaven
and radiant with the sight of his dead wife,
light streaming from his mouth to shape her name,
'not Florence and not Flo but always Florrie.
' I thought how his cold tongue burst into flame but only literally, which makes me sorry, sorry for his sake there's no Heaven to reach.
I get it all from Earth my daily bread but he hungered for release from mortal speech that kept him down, the tongue that weighed like lead.
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Book Ends


Baked the day she suddenly dropped dead
we chew it slowly that last apple pie.
Shocked into sleeplessness you're scared of bed.
We never could talk much, and now don't try.
You're like book ends, the pair of you, she'd say, Hog that grate, say nothing, sit, sleep, stare… The 'scholar' me, you, worn out on poor pay, only our silence made us seem a pair.
Not as good for staring in, blue gas, too regular each bud, each yellow spike.
At night you need my company to pass and she not here to tell us we're alike! You're life's all shattered into smithereens.
Back in our silences and sullen looks, for all the Scotch we drink, what's still between 's not the thirty or so years, but books, books, books.
II The stone's too full.
The wording must be terse.
There's scarcely room to carve the FLORENCE on it-- Come on, it's not as if we're wanting verse.
It's not as if we're wanting a whole sonnet! After tumblers of neat Johnny Walker (I think that both of us we're on our third) you said you'd always been a clumsy talker and couldn't find another, shorter word for 'beloved' or for 'wife' in the inscription, but not too clumsy that you can't still cut: You're supposed to be the bright boy at description and you can't tell them what the **** to put! I've got to find the right words on my own.
I've got the envelope that he'd been scrawling, mis-spelt, mawkish, stylistically appalling but I can't squeeze more love into their stone.
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Long Distance II

 Though my mother was already two years dead
Dad kept her slippers warming by the gas,
put hot water bottles her side of the bed
and still went to renew her transport pass.
You couldn't just drop in.
You had to phone.
He'd put you off an hour to give him time to clear away her things and look alone as though his still raw love were such a crime.
He couldn't risk my blight of disbelief though sure that very soon he'd hear her key scrape in the rusted lock and end his grief.
He knew she'd just popped out to get the tea.
I believe life ends with death, and that is all.
You haven't both gone shopping; just the same, in my new black leather phone book there's your name and the disconnected number I still call.

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 I thought it made me look more 'working class'
(as if a bit of chequered cloth could bridge that gap!)
I did a turn in it before the glass.
My mother said: It suits you, your dad's cap.
(She preferred me to wear suits and part my hair: You're every bit as good as that lot are!) All the pension queue came out to stare.
Dad was sprawled beside the postbox (still VR) , his cap turned inside up beside his head, smudged H A H in purple Indian ink and Brylcreem slicks displayed so folks migh think he wanted charity for dropping dead.
He never begged.
For nowt! Death's reticence crowns his life, and me, I'm opening my trap to busk the class that broke him for the pence that splash like brackish tears into our cap.
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National Trust

 Bottomless pits.
There's on in Castleton, and stout upholders of our law and order one day thought its depth worth wagering on and borrowed a convict hush-hush from his warder and winched him down; and back, flayed, grey, mad, dumb.
Not even a good flogging made him holler! O gentlemen, a better way to plumb the depths of Britain's dangling a scholar, say, here at the booming shaft at Towanroath, now National Trust, a place where they got tin, those gentlemen who silenced the men's oath and killed the language that they swore it in.
The dumb go down in history and disappear and not one gentleman's been brough to book: Mes den hep tavas a-gollas y dyr (Cornish-) 'the tongueless man gets his land took.

Book: Reflection on the Important Things