Stephen Robertson

Slanting Lines


Later, age maybe eight or ten,

I would play competitive games

in the vast (as it felt) asphalt playground

just across the road

from the Victorian turrets

of the Natural History museum.

You take turns to flick your marble

across the asphalt.

If you hit your friend’s marble

it’s yours to keep.

But long before that

there was a wooden run.

A post at either end,

five grooved sloping rails,

a tray at the base.

You put the marble in at the top;

it runs down the groove

into a hole in the post.

A satisfying click, then it runs

down the next groove, finally

dropping into the bottom tray.

Of course you try

many marbles at a time.

Sometimes they jam

and you must release them

by poking your finger

into the hole.

The run was already old, dark green

paint slowly decaying

under the fingers of the six of us.

Sometimes more damage—

break and repair, break and repair—

occasional work for a handyman.

That is now my role—

making the necessary repairs

for a generation of grandchildren.