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The Skip

February 8, 2023

by James Fenton

A friend told me today that this poem had recently cheered up one of his elderly relatives while she recovered from a brush with the orthopods.

I confess I wasn’t familiar with Fenton, but he was friends with Martin Amis and Christopher Hitchens. This photo by Amis’s then girlfriend Angela Gorgas, was taken around the time the poem was written.

That’s good enough for this Amis and Hitchens fan, so I read the poem to my friend. It cheered us both up.

Jim Thornton

The Skip, by James Fenton

I took my life and threw it on the skip,
Reckoning the next-door neighbours wouldn’t mind
If my life hitched a lift to the council tip
With their dry rot and rubble. What you find

With skips is – the whole community joins in.
Old mattresses appear, doors kind of drift
Along with all that won’t fit in the bin
And what the bin-men can’t be fished to shift.

I threw away my life, and there it lay
And grew quite sodden. `What a dreadful shame,’
Clucked some old bag and sucked her teeth: ‘The way
The young these days … no values … me, I blame…’

But I blamed no one. Quality control
Had loused it up, and that was that.
‘Nough said. I couldn’t stick at home. I took a stroll
And passed the skip, and left my life for dead.

Without my life, the beer was just as foul,
The landlord still as filthy as his wife,
The chicken in the basket was an owl,
And no one said: `Ee, Jim-lad, whur’s thee life?’

Well, I got back that night the worse for wear,
But still just capable of single vision ;
Looked in the skip; my life – it wasn’t there!
Some bugger’d nicked it – without my permission.

Okay, so I got angry and began
To shout, and woke the street. Okay. Okay!
And I was sick all down the neighbour’s van.
And I disgraced myself on the par-kay.

And then … you know how if you’ve had a few
You’ll wake at dawn, all healthy, like sea breezes,
Raring to go, and thinking: `Clever you!
You’ve got away with it.’ And then, oh Jesus,

It hits you. Well, that morning, just at six
I woke, got up and looked down at the skip.
There lay my life, still sodden, on the bricks;
There lay my poor old life, arse over tip.

Or was it mine? Still dressed, I went downstairs
And took a long cool look. The truth was dawning.
Someone had just exchanged my life for theirs.
Poor fool, I thought – I should have left a warning.

Some bastard saw my life and thought it nicer
Than what he had. Yet what he’d had seemed fine.
He’d never caught his fingers in the slicer
The way I’d managed in that life of mine.

His life lay glistening in the rain, neglected,
Yet still a decent, an authentic life.
Some people I can think of, I reflected
Would take that thing as soon as you’d say Knife.

It seemed a shame to miss a chance like that.
I brought the life in, dried it by the stove.
It looked so fetching, stretched out on the mat.
I tried it on. It fitted, like a glove.

And now, when some local bat drops off the twig
And new folk take the house, and pull up floors
And knock down walls and hire some kind of big
Container (say, a skip) for their old doors,

I’ll watch it like a hawk, and every day
I’ll make at least – oh – half a dozen trips.
I’ve furnished an existence in that way.
You’d not believe the things you find on skips.

One Comment leave one →
  1. February 8, 2023 10:53 am

    Beautiful! Thank you so much for the poetic treat . It tickled me to see you post it. How little we know about any ones life. And always so quick we are to presume. Thank you 😊 there is a poem about a guillemot from John Hegley , which I just remembered. I do not know why !

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