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Hollie McNish / Helen Mort / Moniza Alvi.

by Now Then Sheffield

One frost-rich, half-invented night,
a moonbeam like a Sheffield knife
cuts through to Brearley in the dark
enchanted by his cast-out work:
the steel he’d thrown into the dust
held up, studied for its fringe of rust
only to find it shining clean…

Or scrap the whole enchanted scene
and think instead of years of graft -
comparisons and chucked out drafts
and no such guessed-at word as stainless,
just shifts and nights and all the aimless
work of crafting something new
and hoping your best go would do.

However it was, the gift’s the same;
the metal’s strange and artless name
spoken across a world he’d never seen
except in badly-fashioned dreams.
Or, stranger, metal speaking for itself
in San Francisco, where the fire bells
began in Sheffield and were shipped away…

And stranger still, how I can watch the day
fold over Stanage, listen to the dull chime
of my climbing gear and, when I climb,
hold all of it, untarnished, all this time
far back and in the best part of my mind.
Me, with no tools except for these
and no work save for memory.

HELEN MORT.


‘Steel’ is one of five new poems commissioned by Word Life and Off The Shelf to mark the centenary of the invention of stainless steel by Harry Brearley in Sheffield in 1913.|

I expected a quiet wedding
high above a lost city
a marriage to balance on my head

like a forest of sticks, a pot of water.
The ceremony tasted of nothing
had little colour – guests arrived

stealthy as sandalwood smugglers.
When they opened their suitcases
England spilled out.

They scratched at my veil
like beggars on a car window.
I insisted my dowry was simple –

a smile, a shadow, a whisper,
my house an incredible structure
of stiffened rags and bamboo.

We travelled along roads with English
names, my bridegroom and I.
Our eyes changed colour

like traffic-lights, so they said.
The time was not ripe
for us to view each other.

We stared straight ahead as if
we could see through mountains
breathe life into new cities.

I wanted to marry a country
take up a river for a veil
sing in the Jinnah Gardens

hold up my dream, tricky
as a snake-charmers snake.
Our thoughts half-submerged

like buffaloes under dark water
we turned and faced each other
with turbulence

and imprints like maps on our hands.

MONIZA ALVI.

)
by Now Then Sheffield

Next article in issue 67

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