Archive for July, 2012

AMBITION

…autumn from the train…empty parks washed

in melancholy greens…slow smoke of leaves…

a Wendy House toppled…motorists,

on an underpass, stopped for the blue flash

of a passing emergency…doctor

and priest jostling beside the newly born

mess of humanity, head ballooning

with water, back cleaved, a tangle of entrails

and heart booming like presses: the measure

of our compassion…hospitals, chapels,

mills aspiring to grey horizons…

from the train, things in themselves – fallen

leaves, a tumbled playhouse…

 

 

 

 

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ANGEL OF THE NORTH

At my back is Durham’s Romanesque

Te Deum. I turn my face to the sky

and this wonder – forged in a commonwealth

of system, iron and grace by private

genius out of public patronage,

on the grassed remains of a pithead baths.

 

Wherever you are in its vicinity,

in its line of sight, you can look nowhere else –

at its span, its height, it wings; at the

uncompromising power, unambiguous

vitality. When you look directly,

it is earthed but ready to soar – from your eye’s

corner, just about to take off or land.

 

It is rusting, except where children sliding

have polished its feet. It seems naturally

an ‘it’, not androgynous and neither

female nor male. It seems like the solar wind,

a flood tide, a stand of birches, winding gear,

a lathe, a mould. I read the graffiti;

note the engineers’ marks; count the rivets;

conjure the subtle, oh, gentle throb

of enormous wing beats; feel the skill,

the grasp, the joy; imagine the steady

tremor of turbines. Celebrating life,

prefiguring death, this weighty messenger,

this kind harbinger, welded like a ship’s

hull, embraces the air.

 

 

 

 

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ON BECOMING TWO

The party guests arrange themselves for a group

photo with the birthday girl at the centre.

She watches us position ourselves – some

on the sofa, some on the floor in front,

some standing behind – then runs to the tripod

and presses the remote… After the guests have gone,

she draws her first spiral – clockwise, perfect,

a spira mirabilis – then carries

her Pooh balloon around the room, requesting

Postman Pat… She hides under her special

blanket. ‘Where is she?’ we chorus. ‘Has she

gone to the river to feed the ducks?’ ‘No,’

she answers, muffled but unequivocal…

Next day, she goes to see the butterflies

in The Glasshouse – each larger than her hands splayed…

Later, she watches a pair of blue tits

begin to occupy the nesting box

on the sycamore though cold winds blow

and there are ten more weeks of winter…

Wonder jostles wonder. Nothing is mundane…

How robust she has become! How delicate still!

 

 

 

 

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AN ABRIDGED HISTORY OF THE WORLD

‘Holt Bridge On The River Dee’ By Richard Wilson RA

 

Near where the Romans made pottery and tiles

from the rich boulder clay the Ice Age brought,

a fourteenth century eight arch sandstone bridge

spans the River Dee, Afon Dyfrdwy,

linking Welsh Holt and English Farndon.

The bridge’s stones are from the same quarry

as Holt Castle’s, the first the invaders built.

Three centuries later the Roundheads took it.

 

Occasional salmon from the Atlantic

navigate the industrial detritus –

found downstream below Chester, upstream

above Ruabon – to spawn in the shallow,

white waters of the river’s upper reaches.

But here the current flows tawny and deep –

past grazing dairy cattle – its banks choked

with sweet-smelling Himalayan Balsam.

On the Farndon side are Triassic cliffs

from when the earth had one continent.

Ancestral dinosaurs hunted here.

 

Richard Wilson, known, although born in Wales,

as ‘the father of English landscape painting’,

and acknowledged an influence by Turner

and Constable, has, of course, in part,

romanticised the scene. The middle distance –

the bridge, which a drover and his beasts

are crossing, still then with its gate tower

– the horizon – marked by the hills and mountains

of the Clwydian range – and the light

itself are the Welsh Marches to the life.

But the foreground seems more Campagna

than Cheshire – the side from which he has painted

the scene, from somewhere above the cliffs,

below which sheep graze and, on top of which,

are four figures, one female and three male,

framed by an Italianate-looking tree and bush.

 

Perhaps they are shepherds and a shepherdess.

Certainly, the youngest male is playing a flute.

But there is irony in this eclogue.

The older three are staring at the painter.

One, a staff or gun strapped to his back,

has climbed up the cliff to get a better look.

The remaining two are a rather portly

Daphnis and Chloë. The former lies prone,

his legs crossed at the ankles, one hand

propping up his head, the other holding

what appears to be a pair of sheep shears

or a broad-bladed knife. He seems affronted,

his mouth gaping. His Chloë – in a blue dress

and white smock, her legs tucked under her –

has one hand placed both possessively and

protectively across his back. She shields

with her other hand, her eyes from the sun,

to see more clearly what has caused her swain’s

self-righteous, tongue-tied rage.

 

 

 

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ALL THAT REMAINS

Among the plane trees, where cicadas screech,

a tumbled column has split. From the fracture,

fossils protrude. Did priests guess the stone

had been seabed? One tiny limpet shell,

its fluting immortalised before gods,

is proud to fingers caressing that other,

elusive, silent country. Slower

than acid rain, more rapacious than locusts,

on a sacred hill, a tinkling flock

of goats is making deserts. Last words

for poems are worm casts at ebb tide:

distinguished far off, close up are crudely

made, tell-tale leftovers.

 

 

 

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