The White Rabbit offers his pocket watch to me
As Alice looks on bemusedly.
Bobbins of spun cotton fill the coal scuttle that adorns my table
As jostles for air between cake and cappuccino.
Through glass, spotlessly clean, a crisp winter light pours in,
But, with eyes wide open I dim this light, cloud this glass, drown the music
And I’m in a dark forbidding place, a basement, where deafening thuds,
Piercing whistles and earth-shaking stomps
Transport me to a former time.
I glimpse a young boy, ten years old, flat-capped,
With thread-bare overcoat and scuffed clogs trampling along the shit drenched cobbles
Barely awake, barely cognizant of his surroundings
Where he s dwarfed by buildings so tall
That the sun never reaches the ground
Even in those times when, just for a brief moment,
It penetrates the ubiquitous smog and grime.
A surgeon signed his papers – he’s fit for work.
But he doesn’t stay long, and next time I meet him
He’s a gunner
Taking aim at other young men from factories and farms and homes
Where anxious loved ones await them.
Ishmael returned home,
Was he devastated?
Did he scream in nightmares in the living daylight?
In a gallery above me a striking wreath takes my breath away:
The dead eyes covered with pennies
The kit-box stenciled with numbers
Beyond my comprehension.
My great uncle Ishmael worked at Dean Clough carpets which was, at the time, the largest carpet manufacturer in the world. Today it houses, art galleries and the Loom Café, decorated with Alive in Wonderland paraphernelia.