Archive for October, 2009


At twilight from the hills across the Straits, a sudden

drift of smoke – then a fire’s deep orange eye blinked.

We talked of cruising the Nile; of moon rise and sun set,

of the narrow compass of the earth’s curve;

the river pilots’ open armed, hand-on-heart salaams;

and the stars rushing through the night.


Later and sleepless in the early hours,

I kept watch at the bedroom window.

The hotel sign lit a faded Union flag,

threadbare at its outer edges.

The only hint of the far shore was

sporadic lights on the A55.


But the stars were unequivocal. In a cloudless,

unpolluted sky, how they teemed!

I saw the constellations pass

and the random magnificence of things revealed.

Understandably, you preferred to sleep.

And journey safely through the dark.

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Dedham Vale, John Constable, 1802

Dedham Vale, John Constable, 1802

Dedham Vale, John Constable, 1828

Dedham Vale, John Constable, 1828
































September touches the Vale like a sigh,

a mellow, fruitful suspiration

edging from green to lemon, agitating

gently the skieyest leaves. The Stour

meanders to a sea of clouds vanishing

over an unimaginable Europe.

Dedham Church, a testament to wool,

focuses an especial scene: Saxon names,

corn marigolds, skylarks and enclosures.


After Napoleon, Peterloo and his wife’s

slow death, another canvas shows the same

landscape. New buildings exploit the river

and the church tower is luminous yet

vulnerable, not focal, to a whorl

of cumulus billowing from beyond

the horizon over dark, distressed elms.

Crouched under the overgrown bank of a lane,

the last you see of the painting, with her tent

and her cooking pot, a tramp woman

nurses a child under the tumbling sky.

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Citizens falter in the purposeful street.

Above the fumes of money, confusion,

from the leaden gaps of sky comes a murmuring,

a sigh like breathing, pulsing of blood.

Swans are flying on unhurried wing beats,

necks as prows towards horizons. Glinting

like new coins, pedestrians’ faces

turn skyward… The city smells of warm stone.

Sun illuminates the prison’s granite.

Thrust through the bars of a cell window

are a pair of hands, palms upward. Whatever

they have done, those fingers, spread like wings, chill

the indifferent light…

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Year of austerity’s end when Atlee

and the dying King launched the festive concrete

of the second half of the twentieth

century. That spring, at Uncle George’s

hotel, we had chicken. Labour defeats

tumbled from the wireless in the chintzy

lounge. I read Five Go Off On Holiday

and Biggles In The Orient. I heard

a family playing tennis, laughter

and plimsolls, stared at a girl sunbathing

by the empty pool. I was Julian

taking command, Biggles shooting up Japs,

me thinking of knickers

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For all the pretty curtains and the tasteful prints

and the carers’ determined bonhomie,

this is the house of the mad and my mother

a permanent resident.


Sane, she was aggressive. She is docile now.

She was unsociable, sane. Now she smarms –

at folk she’d once have considered common.


She thinks I am dead or my long dead father.

You’re a nurse or her daughter. Alzheimer’s

is the ultimate in wish fulfilment.


The deranged have no beauty or dignity, only

the trick of absolute exclusion. Yet you move

amongst these ghosts with such brave, loving

surefootedness. Je suis desolé!

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