Archive for July, 2011


Hereward The Wake - Last of the English!


The Lone Ranger gallops through the suburbs,

his sidekick on the smaller horse. Legends

gather, like tumbleweed – Beowulf, Robin Hood.

He’s making for the badlands of the best

hotel, where blue-chinned ones with foreign names,

amidst the liquor and the girls, conspire…


Elsewhere, no one is wholly innocent

but in rhetorical worlds – Question Time

in the House, the lounge of the Albion,

the Synod – there are only opposites.

‘Good’ and ‘evil’ have a human shape…


The gun smoke clears and everyone is dead.

“Long live Captain Marvel!”


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Not for the hard, life-denying graft of it

or the danger, not for the polluting smoke

or the banishing of bird song,

not for the exploitation and social

upheaval, least of all for its cannons

at Naseby, Bunker Hill, Waterloo,

but for its madness, the sheer reach of it,

the invention of it, the ambition,

the defiance, the rhythmical creak

of the horse-drawn gin pumping water

from the river, the sulphurous roars

of the furnace, the forge hammers pounding

through the ancient woods, along Offa’s Dyke,

their echoes dying…


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As the city’s original centre is reclaimed

from anarchy by its citizens of colour,

this skyscraper – the tallest building in Africa –

built in the Apartheid era, in white Joburg,

begins to be used again: its shopping centre

and car parks thrive with consumerism,

and its fiftieth floor is a haven for lovers –

and a belvedere for occasional tourists.


We can see the township taxis jam the streets below,

washing lines on the roofs of re-occupied buildings,

the Mandela Bridge over the railway, the Market Theatre,

Hillbrow, the suburbs and, in the far distance,

the deserted ramparts of the gold reefs.

This place has survived. They have made it.

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A roma woman, cradling a child, sits

cross-legged in a tie-and-dye dress and begs

from fur-coated women strolling beneath

the portico of the Pavaglione.

Enamelled photos of resistance fighters

are displayed on the side of the Town Hall.

Where the bomb blasted the station wall,

the crack has been crystallised in plate glass.


Nicolò Dell’Arca’s terracotta

pietà, its smug patron as Joseph

of Aramathea, with a concerned

angel as onlooker, portrays four women,

mothers petrified in distress, in despair,

in that grief which threatens breath and heartbeat.



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On this auspicious date in July:

Richard the Lionheart was crowned; Thomas Cook

ran his first railway excursion, Leicester

to Peterborough and back; Thomas More

was beheaded; Horlicks went on sale; Newton

published his ‘Principia’; John Lennon

met Paul McCartney; Pasteur cured rabies;

the first full length talkie was premiered…


From that date in ‘61 – a blind date

(you with the black spot  to avenge a friend

and, after, changing your mind and your heart,

and me, innocently of course, longing

for sex and romance) – justice, being blind,

has sentenced us to our just deserts,

locked us up in half a century of love

with all its longing, its hurt, and its joy.


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