Paul Farley

Image by Caroline Forbes

Poem introduction

This is called Treacle. After I read this a while ago a man came and took me aside after the reading and told me he thought it was clever how I'd linked the title of my book, The Boy From the Chemist is Here to See You, with the substance, treacle, and I nodded and smiled politely but had no idea what he was talking about. But over time I found out that the word "treacle" comes from triacle, which is what apothecaries would use in the middle ages to counteract poisons, and this in turn was based on the Greek antidote for the bite of wild beasts. So treacle in fact has a long association with medicine and chemists, in fact, yet I never knew or drew on this while I was writing the poem, although I'm happy enough to take the blame.


Funny to think you can still buy it now,
a throwback, like shoe polish or the sardine key.
When you lever the lid it opens with a sigh
and you're face-to-face with history.
By that I mean the unstable pitch black
you're careful not to spill, like mercury

that doesn't give any reflection back,
that gets between the cracks of everything
and holds together the sandstone and bricks
of our museums and art galleries;
and though those selfsame buildings stand
hosed clean now of all their gunk and soot,

feel the weight of this tin in your hand,
read its endorsement from one Abram Lyle
'Out of the strong came forth sweetness'
below the weird logo of bees in swarm
like a halo over the lion carcass.
Breathe its scent, something lost from our streets

like horseshit or coalsmoke; its base note
a building block as biblical as honey,
the last dregs of an empire's dark sump;
see how a spoonful won't let go of its past,
what the tin calls back to the mean of its lip
as you pour its contents over yourself

and smear it into every orifice.
You're history now, a captive explorer
staked out for the insects; you're tarred
and feel its caul harden. The restorer
will tap your details back out of the dark:
close-in work with a toffee hammer.

from The Boy from the Chemist is Here to See You (Picador, 1998), copyright © Paul Farley 1998, used by permission of the author


Paul Farley

Paul Farley Reading from his poems

1From A Weekend First



4Papal Visit

5Dead Fish

6Not Fade Away

7A Minute's Silence

8Diary Moon


10Big Safe Themes

1111th February 1963



14Without Potatoes





19Phone Books

20A Thousand Hours

21The Sleep of Estates

22The Barber's Lull


24A Tunnel

25Laws of Gravity