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This article is taken from PN Review 260, Volume 47 Number 6, July - August 2021.

After Tony Harrison
Caitlin Stobie
Last May I cycled to the cemetery
to see old graffiti, the Vs, your task.
All I found was dog shit and dried lilies,
then drifting litter: a surgical mask.

Who am I to write this reply?
Thin slices of an accent, southerner
by way of Africa: best believe I,
too, hate grave advice from foreigners.

But someone has to start with the questions.
Again I try, fail, trying to go on.
Each year brings more floods and man-made seasons;
what if we united, but did it wrong?

Walking long ago, counting cracks, I asked
Why’s the street wet? to a boy from a band.
He pointed his free hand. A drunk’s turned back.
If you were a man, love, you’d understand.

On Saturdays all men came out alleys
to grope the slippery centre of Leeds.
The city’s never been so lively
we chanted, dodging vomit every week.

Tony, you know what’s meant when I say ‘all’
and ‘men’. For in the Brude and Chunk you’d see
– even in Wharf’s safest toilet stall –
them slits slashed clean between two widened Vs.

In ’85 it was swear words lads sprayed
round town. Now ‘cunt’ is on discount, reduced.
‘The versuses of life’, ‘man and wife’: splayed
like legs in the cubicle W.

They say in Shakespeare’s day, ‘cunt’ was ‘nothing’.
Lately, the male organ’s ...

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