The Bargain

The Bargain
The river in January is fast and high.
You and I
are off to the Barrows.
Gathering police-horses twitch and fret
at the Tron end of London Road and Gallowgate.
The early kick-off we forgot
has us, three thirty, rubbing the wrong way
against all the ugly losers
getting ready to let fly
where the two rivers meet.

January, and we’re
looking back, looking forward,
don’t know which way

but the boy
with three beautiful Bakelite
Bush radios for sale in Meadow’s Minimarket is
buttonpopping stationhopping he
doesn’t miss a beat    sings along      it’s easy
to every changing tune

Yes today we’re in love aren’t we?
with the whole splintering city
its big quick river     wintry bridges
its brazen black Victorian heart.
So what if every other tenement
wears its hearth on its gable end?
All I want
is my glad eye to catch
a glint in your flinty Northern face again
just once. Oh I know it’s cold
and coming down
and no we never lingered long among
the Shipbank traders.
Paddy’s Market     underneath the arches
stank too much today
the usual wetdog reek rising
from piles of old damp clothes.

Somebody absolutely steamboats he says on
sweet warm wine
swigged plaincover from a paper bag
squats in a puddle with nothing to sell
but three bent forks    a torn
calendar (last year’s)
and a broken plastic sandal.
So we hadn’t the stomach for it today.
We don’t deserve a bargain then!
No connoisseur can afford to be too scrupulous
about keeping his hands clean.
There was no doubt      the rare     the beautiful
and the bugle-beaded    the real antique      dirt cheap
among the rags and drunks
you could easily take to the cleaners.

At the Barrows everything has its price
no haggling     believe me
this boy knows his radios.
Pure Utility
and what that’s worth these days.
Suddenly the fifties are fashionable
and anything within a decade of art deco
a rarity you’ll pay through your nose for.
The man with the patter and all these curtain lengths
in fibreglass is flabbergasted at the bargain
and says so in so many words.
Jesus, every other
arcade around here’s
a ‘Fire Surround Boutique’ – 
and we watch the struggling families – 
father carrying hearth home
mother wound up with kids.
All the couples we know fall apart
or have kids.

Oh we’ve never  shouldered much.
We’ll stick to small ikons for our home – 
as long as they’re portable – 
a dartboard   a peacock feather
a stucco photoframe.

We queue in a blue haze of hot fat
for Danny’s Do-Nuts that grit
our teeth with granules of sugar
I keep
losing you and finding you – 
two stalls away you thumb
through a complete set of manuals for
primary teachers in the thirties
I rub my sleeve
on a rusty Chinese saucer
till the gilt shows through.
Oh come on     we promised
we’d not let our affection for the slightly cracked
trap us into such expenditure again.
Oh even if it is a bargain
we won’t buy.
The stallholder says we’ll be the death of her
she says    see January
it’s been the doldrums the day.

And it’s packing up time
with the dark coming early
and as cold as the river.
By the bus stop I show you
the beady bag and the maybe rosewood box
with the inlaid butterfly and the broken catch.
You’ve bought a record by the Shangri-las
a pin-stripe waistcoat that needs a stitch
it just won’t get     and a book called Enquire
Within – Upon Everything.

The raw cold gets colder.
There doesn’t seem to be a lot to say.
I wish we could either mend things
or learn to throw them away.
Liz Lochhead

from A Choosing: Selected Poems (Polygon 2011)

Reproduced by permission of Polygon, an imprint of Birlinn Ltd

Liz Lochhead

Appointed Scots Makar – the National Poet for Scotland – from 2011 to 2016, Liz Lochhead is both transgressive and popular; as Anne Varty wrote, ‘her work is that of one woman speaking to many,  and one person speaking for many’.


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