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The Saturday Poem: With Joe on Silver Street


by Helen Tookey

Tuesday 1 August 1967

Said goodbye to Kenneth this morning. He seemed odd. On the spur of the moment I asked if he wanted to come home to Leicester with me. He looked surprised and said, 'No.'

– from the diary of Joe Orton

In scratty fake-fur jackets, jaunty caps
and baseball boots we saunter Silver Street,
skiving our ls: it's Siwver Street to slack-
mouthed Midlanders like us, who can't be arsed
with alveolar laterals. Of course,
RADA and elocution did the trick,
but still you keep a hint of Saffron Lane –
it charms the pants off Peggy and the rest,
just like the coat: 'Cheap clothes suit me,' you smirked,
'It's cos I'm from the gutter'; and it works,
they're all down on their knees, lapping it up.
Sometimes I think I hate you, Joe: I can
be cruel, but cruelty is something pure
for you, a fire that kills and makes things clean
and true; and I know anger, but the rage
that shoots your star high through the London nights
is something I'm afraid to face. You've travelled
far beyond me, Joe, and you don't plan
on coming back, I know; but here we are
on Silver Street, and look, in black and white,
that little word you never had the time
to strike out from those last blind lines, Joe: home.

• From Missel-Child (Carcanet, £9.95). To order a copy for £7.96 with free UK p&p go to guardianbookshop.co.uk or call Guardian book service on 0330 333 6846.

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