Christmas Eve

by Liz Berry

Christmas Eve

Tonight the Black Country is tinselled by sleet

falling on the little towns lit up in the darkness

like constellations – the Pigeon, the Collier -

and upon the shooting stars of boy racers

who comet through the streets in white Novas.

It’s blowing in drifts from the pit banks,

over the brown ribbon of the cut, over Beacon Hill,

through the laploved chimneys of the factories.

Sleet is tumbling into the lap of the plastercast Mary

by the manger at St Jude’s, her face gorgeous and naive

as the last Bilston carnival queen.

In the low-rise flats opposite the cemetery,

Mrs Showell is turning on her fibre-optic tree

and unfolding her ticket for the rollover lottery

though we ay never 'ad a bit o luck in ower lives

and upstairs in the box-rooms of a thousand semis

hearts are stuttering and minds unravelling

like unfinished knitting.

And the sleet fattens and softens to snow,

blanking the crowded rows of terraces

and their tiny hankies of garden, white now, surrendering

their birdfeeders and sandpits, the shed Mick built

last Autumn when the factory clammed up.

And the work’s gone again

and the old boys are up at dawn to clock on nowhere

except walk their dogs and sigh

at the cars streaming to call centres and supermarkets

because there ay nuthin in it that’s mon’s werk,

really bab, there ay…

But it’s coming down now, really coming

over the stands at the Molinuex, over Billy Wright

kicking his dreams into the ring road

and in the dark behind the mechanics

the O’Feeney’s boy props his BMX against the lock-ups

and unzips to piss a flower into the snow

well gi me strength Lord, to turn the other cheek

for we’m the only ones half way decent round ere 

and the tower blocks are advent calendars,

every curtain pulled to reveal a snow-blurred face.

And it’s Christmas soon, abide it or not,

for now the pubs are illuminated pink and gold

The Crooked House, Ma Pardoes, The Struggling Mon

and snow is filling women’s hair like blossom

and someone is drunk already and throwing a punch

and someone is jamming a key in a changed lock

shouting fer christ’s sake, Myra, yo’ll freeze me to jeth

and a hundred new bikes are being wrapped in sheets

and small pyjamas warmed on fireguards

and children are saying one more minute, just one, Mom

and the old girls are watching someone die on a soap

and feeling every snow they’ve ever seen set in their bones.

It’s snowing on us all

and I think of you, Eloise, down there in your terrace,

feeding your baby or touching his hand to the snow

and although we can’t ever go back or be what we were

I can tell you, honestly, I’d give up everything I’ve worked for

or thought I wanted in this life,

to be with you tonight.

© Liz Berry