Joe Williams: Handwritten


I have letters, dozens of them,
a boxful I’ve carried round
for twenty, thirty years,
from one home to another,
still in their envelopes,
a chronicle of old addresses,
family home to Brudenell Road,
Ashville Avenue, Church Street.

Now it’s time to move again,
and they’re not coming with me.

I’m reading them one last time,
the first time in years,
before they get consigned
to Tuesday’s bins, for recycling
into cardboard or toilet roll,
these handwritten stories
from a half-remembered past.

There’s news of partners lost and found,
favourite new albums, gigs,
lines cribbed from Vic and Bob,
always an item enclosed, from Steve,
a drawing of me in a car, by Anna,
hoping I’d passed my test.
I don’t know if that was the time I did
or one of the three I failed.

There’s Maddy, my teenage pen pal.
It’s decades since I thought of her
or her letters, all coloured ink
and smiley faces, marginalia
scrawled by friends as bored as her
in afternoon physics.
I didn’t realise at the time
that boarding at St Swithun’s and
her Mum buying a King’s Road flat
meant she must have been loaded.

There’s John, who always wanted people
to call him Jerry. No one did.
He always sent a Christmas card,
care of my parents, long after this.
I never got round to replying
before they eventually stopped.

Those were my lost years,
the days I let things fall away.

The letters end in ’98,
the year the world went digital.
No need, then, for ink or stamps,
but still, more of these letters than not
are from people I’m not in touch with,
others little more than a name
on a list on a social media page.
I wonder how many of them have been
hoarding the past, like me.

I’m never the one to make the effort.
I’ve always been better at walking away.

About the Artist

Joe Williams is a writer from Leeds. His latest book is ‘The Taking Part’, a pamphlet of poems on the theme of sport and games, published by Maytree Press.