Esther Philips, oldest of thirteen, came

from Liverpool, had tea with Buffalo

Bill and, having siblings and her mother,

a drunkard, to care for, refused an offer

to join a chorus line. When I knew her, she

had no teeth, wore the same two black dresses

and munched Quaker Oats between meals. She cried

when I played ‘La Fille Aux Cheveux De Lin’

on the upright in the back room. She outlived

two husbands and four of seven children –

and died saying that she knew how Jesus felt.



'Saudade', Almeida Junior, 1899

'Saudade', Almeida Junior, 1899


We sheltered in the lee of the lighthouse

at what was once the end of the world,

the caliphate, for half a millennium.

Lovers still, we watched the squall move eastwards,

obscure the Sagres promontory –

whose fort’s white walls hold the Navigator’s

stone anemometer: shaped like a compass rose,

big as a bull ring, grooved like a millstone.

His caravels outflanked Islam, rounded,

at last,



'Lion', Babel, circa 583 BC

'Lion', Babel, circa 583 BC


‘Arma virumque cano’ was birched

into pimply boys who ruled their thin red lines

at every degree. Till the sun set

on heart-shaped continents, DCs in the bush

carried Caesar in their khaki shorts. Gaul or

Matabele, order was where empire

prevailed. Rule of law is a state of mind.

Ovid exiled himself. Virgil wrote

two lines a day in his villa near Naples.

On unmapped plains,



For Evelyn, b.13.1.10


Born to good music by strong women,

Ella’s ‘isle of joy’, Nina’s ‘it’s a new dawn’ –

how you nestle in your parents’ untrammelled

love, how you suck with unrelenting hunger!


Born into a world of rubble, with children

buried alive, a world of chicanery

and hatreds – you have entered a difficult,

place, little Evie, somewhere remarkable,

full of tears and amazing kindnesses!