Born and raised in Beckenham, Matt Bryden is an EFL teacher whose work has taken him to Tuscany, the Czech Republic and Poland. His poems have appeared in New Welsh Review, The Reader and The Warwick Review among others. His pamphlet, Night Porter, was one of the winners of the Templar pamphlet competition 2010, and will be published in November. Boxing the Compass, his first full collection, follows in 2011, also with Templar.
A new face at half six.
I was manning Reception
when he came through the doors.
On a couch he told me about the kitchens
in Scotland. His uncleaned teeth
smelt earthy as sweat.
‘I came to England to get a break. That’s a joke.’
He showed me bank statements
of when he was £10,000 in the black.
First published in Seam.
Should the People But Come Above Ground
In Quebec, the snow-clearing machines are known
as hiders, the packed ice compacted into bricks
and stacked at the side of the road.
In the morning, the streets are clear.
In the underground malls, high ceilings
approximate sky; hats are worn.
Because of the cost of lighting each subterranean city,
ice is translated into power
through a system of hydro-electric mills.
Steam, a by-product, hangs in the air,
making it impossible for insects to fly.
Butterflies and moths move entirely on land.
Due to the absence of public parks, dogs
are a rare sight below ground. Above, caged sections
are allocated; their etiquette is pronounced.
Butterfly cages the size of basketball courts
occupy a square in each district, as pristine in the light
as the rows of empty ropes in the schools’ unused gyms.
Below, fountains flicker with thin blue strips of silk,
blown into movement by air currents.
In an atmosphere so heavily permeated with water,
water itself does not flow.
A cup of tea, while warming above ground,
can chap the skin of an ungloved hand beneath.
For this reason only warmed apple juice
with cinammon is served.
Each Canadian souterraine will tell you,
in her icy Quebecois, that men are available
should one only take a look. They joke,
‘Not one of us would say winter is our favourite season.’
The streets empty, the city is art.
The nightcleaners hose the base
of the butterfly enclosure through wire mesh,
scourge the chalky residue.
The underground populace thrive.
A nightcleaner kids himself
that his foot feels the faintest thrum,
a cricket’s fibrillation in a sound-box, from below.
First published in Magma.
If People Think
this Czech girl is weak
because she keeps her own counsel,
they don’t factor quite
how tough it is to be that quiet.
Everyone wants your contribution.
She chooses London
over returning to her mother’s home –
a timber-frame construction
near a forest,
her sister across the hall.
Her money gone,
she resorts to the word
of an older man with keys
to a car and a flat in Edinburgh
and escapes a month later,
the split ends of her hair
dropping below a bruised shoulder.
After class, she catches herself
turning her chair onto the table, and laughs.
First published in Smiths Knoll.
The Night Sky
Who brings these star- and crescent-
shaped pastries, each filled with vanilla
or jam, to my bed each morning?
Such nursery shapes are clearly beneficent,
like knowing which berries are sour
and which are ripe by sight.
I stare past my desk to the window
and wipe my dreams like a slate.
First published in The Warwick Review.
As you urinate, or bathe, a blur
against the glass.
The bubble bath, never lush, thinned to air
we see each other just by looking down.
I cover your mouth.
Your desk is propped
against the scrape
of butter across toast in the mornings;
evenings, the lift pulley sounds in your bricks.
I can’t sleep for being hugged and held,
I rise, shower an alertness and am gone.
Always the promise of closeness.
Cold streets, shared meals.
I talk until I realise I don’t have to.
Rock until our legs fall in place.
First published in Orange Coast Review.
An exhibition match at Beckenham Public Hall;
you lent your arm out of a fondness for the locale
and familiarity with his name in the Embassy final.
Down there, on the floor, the fall-out
of your recent breakup didn’t register.
Attempted reconciliations after nightfall,
rushing home to neck fistfuls of Kalms – all this
evaporated with the first hit. Jimmy split
the pack. You took it slow; lined that red up till
it was almost gone, it had to go.
‘Can you put our pocket back please, Jon,’ cracked the emcee.
The crowd were rigidly attentive of that slab of green
from their place in the hard seats. And you were on the black now.
Another red sank. From Jimmy: ‘You know it’s winner
stays on?’ Applause. And in that pit,
you wiped your blade at twenty-six.
Jimmy didn’t give you another sniff.
He kept you off the table
and gave you his chalk by way of memento
on the way back up to your seat.
It rankled not to get back in the game.
And that, Jon, was the mending of you.
First published in New Welsh Review.
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