Archive for June, 2012


Above every Mairie flaps the Tricolour.

On every lawn, in every yard through the gut

of America – where the Great Plains began

before the farmers came with wheat and pigs

and soya fields – Old Glory flutters.

Above the reception desk in every

riad in Morocco the king’s photo hangs.

Here, things are never that unambiguous.


In a street near the foot of the Downs,

too steep for tables, they have strung bunting

from house to house, moved cars, hired a leaning

bouncy castle and shared barbecues.


This chalk, grassland common – that slopes upwards

to the flint ridge with its Pilgrim’s Way,

from Winchester to Canterbury,

for a Norman priest killed by Norman lords –

is a (mostly) English floral lexicon:

Meadow Cranesbane, Meadow Vetchling, Yellow-rattle,

Dove’s Foot Cranesbill,  Common Spotted Orchid.


A Skylark ascends from the unmown grasses.

I think of Vaughan Williams’ orchestral piece,

with its shimmering solo violin,

the George Meredith poem which inspired it –

‘He rises and begins to round,
He drops the silver chain of sound,
Of many links without a break,
In chirrup, whistle, slur and shake’ –

Celts evoking the essence of what was theirs.


The party dwindles as the drizzle arrives.

To be English is to be contrarian –

not being Irish, Scots, Welsh or ‘foreign’.

At the top of the street, a patriot with

a large, St George’s Cross drooping above

the privet hedge, has lit a bonfire

in a garden incinerator.  The rain,

now heavy, drums on the lid and, though sodden –

being dressed in England football strip –

he forces wet, tabloid newspapers down

the narrow funnel. Acrid smoke wafts up.




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She was nearly deaf apparently and nearly blind

and ‘mentally deficient’ since infancy –

but could see an old friend to wave

and sound a greeting.


She was definitely Thurberesque

with her wall-eyed look and stolid gait.


She felt pain and wept.


O prisoner, love alone could not release you!




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‘My wall is loosening; honey-bees,
Come build in the empty house of the stare.’

Meditations In Time Of Civil War, W.B. Yeats


Each year, there would be two nests –

in the eaves at opposite corners

of our square house. We would hear them,

scratching in the gutters – and Danny,

the window cleaner, an ‘affable irregular’

of the black economy, at the door for his money,

would report on their progress

through the spring and the summer –

and remark on the bees floating in the rhododendron

by the porch. “They’re light with honey,” he would say,

“light with honey.”


This year, though there are still bees, for the first year in nearly

forty years there is an absence of starlings,

not a one. I remember long dead, street-wise, innocent Danny,

who liked his drink, and whose ladders were stolen

twice. I remember the teeming, imperious,

cacophonous roosts of starlings that choired

the big city nights, high in the dark.

I think of the well-lit streets – greedy,





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An old man, wrists like a boy’s, round and round

the footpaths of the park, wheeled his wife

swaddled in many fading coats. She was blind,

made a gummy music that might have been hymns.

A child, passing, did not know when to laugh,

nor I, a young man then, how to deserve

such rapture.


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This is the first church she has ever entered.

She likes the thudding noise of her pink trainers

with the flashing heels on the limestone flags.

She stops and points. She has seen, in subtle,

Renaissance stained glass, Jonah emerging

from his whale. She sees a kneeler, lies down

before Adam and Eve and pretends to sleep.

The cathedral was on the pilgrim route

to Santiago Di Compostella

so is a place of consummate skill,

vaulting beauty and Christian arcana –

a wonder no greater or lesser

than Iggle Piggle or The Gruffalo.

Keep the faith, little one, keep the faith!





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