Dear Birmingham by Carl Sealeaf

(So, how’d you guys start dating?)

I asked where you were from,

You groaned with the hinges of Old Factories

Coughed up chunks of ancestry in the cracking cream

of Digbeth Warehouse Walls,

You were never fearful, never gentle

with your truths – they were there as thick

as wartime guns punctuating every step I breathed in you

This is here, if you can rise to it.

You will never own this

You will not slow down.

You will not apologise.

I asked about hobbies – You laughed

With bass of gargling wells

Played music from beer gardens, dancers

making bike shed playgrounds

poets tickling the underbellies of café’s

until the evening felt like Winter’s first sip of hot chocolate

I was intoxicated.

This wasn’t lunch-time gossip, this wasn’t idle crush Facebook-approved

This was new.

I took you ice-skating in the main squares,

bowling in the outskirts,

watched movies in places new to me but old to you

By the time I told anyone about you I didn’t want to know anything else

I had what I needed and that was enough

It wasn’t a consultation when I told everybody what I had found here,

But people still took it upon themselves to warn me

That girl is bad news

Someone poured poison into her canals

Let jealousy bloom in the hatchet-wound of her smile

She has been broken, beaten down, bombarded

far too many times to know how to play fair.

She will hurt you.

I didn’t listen. Threw myself farther in –

loyalty cards and gift bags, office supplies

and work spaces. First bus in and last

one home. Taxi firms knowing me by my first name

Coffee Shops memorising my orders like I was becoming

part of the stonework. Like the big red buses

would slow down between victoria square and the new

library to point me out. “That man belongs here.”

We were squatting on low cushions in an old sheesha bar that

used to be a cinema – I was eating food I couldn’t pronounce the name of

and you were blowing smoke rings like you knew how to make grown men cry

without using words when questions with new shapes starting crawling inside

my head. I grabbed your hand and asked if you wanted more than this

We were surrounded by couples making new uses for tongues but we were

the only ones being intimate in that moment.

Do you want more than this?

Pain whimpered in your eyes and begged me so quietly. Take it back. Take it back.

But I wasn’t kind enough.

We went out and got smashed on Broad Street until we forgot the names

of colours and danced the first of our unravelling I didn’t know

was happening yet.

I started looking for places to move in together

You didn’t call that night and I didn’t worry.

There’s scum gathering under your fingernails

And all you do is paint them.

Bauble decoration German Markets

Smear the lipstick on fat and clean

To cover up the smells bubbling up from

Poverty and rotting youth.

I don’t ask you about your problems

I just start thinking about how I can fix you

Like a boiler or a broken bone

Begin by bringing brilliant minds –

Brainstorm building better brum

Beyond backward basic thinking

Bigger visions Bridges Between

Bourgeoisie and Proletariat.

Built on shoddy assumptions

Gum-clogged systems resistance where we’d

Least expect it.

I get arrogant at dinner

Move continents around my plate

Like a child

And you are so like a child

Why do you have to be so god damn stubborn about everything?

I shout without hearing myself

About how all anyone wants to do is help you

That look is back in your eyes but I still don’t hear it.

I hear excuses and self-pity

Train lines and stations built on butterfly metaphors

Look how well we’re doing London –

Look how well.

That night you call me and I don’t pick up.

We both worry this time.

You tell me Come out tonight. I’ve turned all my lights on.

I can’t. I’m working.

You worry too much.

I’m just trying to build a future together.

I know.

I’ll come tomorrow.

I know.

I leave without really saying goodbye.

Truthfully, I don’t really know what you said

Rusty gears. Peeling back years of

Heads full of words other people put there

I just know I don’t hate you

Let’s take this slowly.