Travelling from Durham to Southend
the row last night
below the surface.
Furrows like frown lines
spreading across barren fields.
We join the M62, past Ferrybridge
Eggborough, and Drax
chimney stacks billowing
out industrial smoke.
The three kids in the back
are we nearly there yet?
You snake the car behind a HGV
on a hiding to nothing
as the back of the lorry reads
I’M NO RACING DRIVER.
I watch a magpie, peck at roadkill
fiddling the radio dial to find a song
that isn’t about being in love.
You blame me, the fault is all mine
as I arranged to travel
on a fucking bank holiday.
We pass the arsehole
that cut you off in the fast lane.
His flash car in the layby
with a blown out tyre.
You say, not so smug now.
Arthritis tightens its grip
on my spine. I tell you to stop
to pull over at the Welcome Break.
– but you drive on and on.
You never understood pain.
A Frank Sinatra song plays on the radio.
I imagine a yellow taxi cab, skyscrapers.
Are we nearly there yet?
I lie to our daughter, not long now.
The back seat erupts
as the two boys fight
over who is taking all the space
– then a loud bang from the rear.
You keep driving as if oblivious.
I say. Did you hear…?
It’s the car next to us –
your voice is unsteady.
We pull off at a service station
and you phone Green Flag
I don’t really care- after eight hours
I’m glad to be out of the car.
One hour wait turns into three.
The smell of greasy food
makes me nauseous.
I buy the kids Burger King
counting coins from my purse.
We sip coffee, people come and go
I’m reminded of Eliot
his women, talking of Michelangelo.
A young woman in a dog onesie
wags her tail. A little girl
eats noodles that fall like worms
from her plastic fork.
Later Green Flag arrives.
I can’t fix the brakes
bank holiday everything closed.
The mechanic loads
our car onto a tow truck.
He tells us, I normally recover wrecks.
It’s after midnight
a thick white fog descends
as the temperature drops to below zero.
The little one asks. Where are we going?
The driver, not used to conversation
Arriving at the Depot we fling
what is left of Christmas
(cake and presents) into the hire car
and set off blind. I punch
the destination into the sat nav.
The roads are utterly dead.
The headlights illuminate white fog
into something beautiful
like a scene from an old romantic
black and white film.
We take a slip road onto the London Orbital
– suddenly you swerve
and that’s when I see him
caught in the headlights
a Snowy Owl
like a sign, like a message
from the gods. You stop
– the Snowy Owl perched
in the middle of the slip lane
and I want to weep
as he stares straight at me
with his unblinking amber eyes.