Sweep Dreams

Rochester Sweeps’ Festival is a celebration of the coming of spring, and as May Day was also the traditional holiday for chimney sweeps or Climbing Boys as they were officially known, the two aspects have combined to produce a unique event. This poem looks at the risks chimney boys took and  awakens us to our local history that is still alive all around us. In Faversham, my local café (Jittermugs) and hairdressers (Rosie’s) and pub (The Chimney Boy, but now renamed The Limes recently) all boast big central chimneys, prompting storytelling to my children. Many of the cottages in my village have huge old chimneys and often the  sweep’s vans come trundling down Faversham Road. The Faversham Hop Festival in 2015 will feature a fabulous band called ‘The Chimney Boys’. You can listen to them on You Tube. The poem itself is formatted  to give some sense of being in the centre of something long and narrow like a chimney but also representing the monument at the end of the poem.

Bristling with impish impatience you were.



Spiky with hope, ashen with annoyance.



 Puffed with churling fury, weeping, moping.



‘You shall go to the dance, when you’ve swept.’



Chimneys stand: black cigars, smoking, you stood



painting the river, mixed soot with black tea.



Ebb and flow, the motion of your brushes



circling the river rushes. Past, it was …



so long ago, my great grandfather said,



 ‘Sweep cinders till dawn.Tommorrow you’ll play.’



Stick beats a path ahead of you, chasing



smoke. Chasing hope. Brush ‘n’ you fuse as sinew.



You dance the tornado, tease tight corners.



A poke and a turn, never burn. Slick flick



of wrist, sooty mists, foot misses, fire hisses,



screams, broken dreams. Deathly confetti



tumbles down. Limbs: tangled spaghetti. Eyes:



spangled and wet. He: splayed on the slate hearth,



never to dance again. Yet today…



today you dance: you dance in a land where



a boy is free. Where there is liberty,



weekends, minimum wage, radiators



and rights. I saw you in the deft twirl of



feathery brushes, in the fleeting folds



of swishing shirts, in the twist of long poles,



in the lithe live limbs, in the flash fuse of



joy. Jaunting by the crooked house, cheeks blush



below brush of black, brooms sharply aloft



like umbrellas poppin’ virgin clouds. I



smelt you in the smoky barbeques and crackling



chestnuts. Burning burgers piled on carts, warmed



Rochester flagstones. I heard your shoes like



flint on metal on the grating. I saw



you in the sooted faces, in the pompous bumble.



Humble beseeching me from the hearth, call



from river rill, saw your dry, black, bone dust,



married with soot. Smoothed you in my hands,



held you aloft as a baby bird. Song



of the sweep you whispered to me, I want



a day, to dance, to play. Away, far over



the Medway I released you. Swirled with the



ribbon, streaming, eyes sore from soot, the wind



brushed back in my face. Upstream, I watched you



circle chimney pots, cannon through castle



battlements. Skeet and reel around fluttering



flags. Sweep through the keep. Up to the sky. Blew



the cheery breeze, stirred up sweeps to hold fast



their caps. Some felt you brush against them. Gave



sweeping salute to the up-sweep of your



wings. Air ‘n’ you fuse as new, giving suit to



kissing clouds. Saw you in the forget me



not sky. In lemonade smiles of children.



In cathedral garden: the monument,



‘Buzz Dye, A brush with life.’ Painted your name:



hot soot sweat streaked from my face stirred with



sweet, strong, black tea. A song … then you were gone.