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25 July 2018updated 09 Sep 2021 3:25pm

Two poems by Hugo Williams

“Big White Day” and “Ghost Signs”

By Hugo Williams

Big White Day

This must be the bad hairdresser,
the part-time spiritualist
and sculptress in lacquer
who backcombed your hair
into a prophetic helter-skelter.
She wanted to be paid in cash,
but £10 was a lot of money in 1970
and we only had traveller’s cheques.
She accompanied us to the bank,
which made us late for the rehearsal.
The group gave us some quaaludes
“to get you through your big day”
and we fell asleep in their minivan.
The last thing I remember
is Sam shouting “Look out everyone,
my brother’s been sick!”
The rest of the day’s a blank.
Here’s another one worth keeping,
taken with the flowers afterwards.
You’re wearing the ring,
so we must have gone through with it.

Ghost Signs

I was trying to read your mind
in London’s palm, looking for reasons
in the blank faces of shops.
A ghost sign for REFRESHMENTS
high on a wall in York Way
and one for WEIGHING MACHINES
round the corner in Gray’s Inn Road,
were growing fainter, harder to read.
The sun was going down
on The Poor School of Performing Arts,
Espiritu Santo Hairstyles and Nails,
“Hurricane Pool Hall Opening Soon”,
a battered tin advertisement
spinning illegibly in the wind.

Hugo Williams won the TS Eliot Prize in 1999 for Billy’s Rain. His most recent collection is I Knew the Bride (Faber & Faber).

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This article appears in the 22 Jul 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Summer special