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.