THE CITY AND THE RIVER


From Woodside to the Pier Head by ferry

is a mile and a bit on waters

that smell always of mud and oil. Eastwards

is Overton Hill, the sandstone ridgeway –

westwards the Liverpool Bar Lightship,

Liverpool Bay and the Irish Sea,

and, far, far beyond, the widening

Atlantic skies where the weathers are made.

 

The Saxons named the river – a boundary

between kingdoms –  the Vikings the place,

with their numerous settlements on the heights.

Cotton and molasses and slavery

laid its Victorian foundations –

avenues, mansions, slums, alleyways –

a city of barbarism and grandeur.

 

My grandmother told her stories as

a litany of parables, wonders.

Each July 12th, the Green and the Orange

brawled murderously. Her father captained

a ‘coffin ship’ to Boston – her mother

took to drink. Johnny Flaws, a neighbour,

died in Arizona. Other neighbours

rushed from their houses for Armageddon –

others flitted late at night or early dawn.

The Cast Iron Shore at the Dingle was rust red

with residue from the scrapped, beached hulls.

 

Many decades ago, when the river

thronged with craft and was polluted, ships,

at midnight each New Year, would blow their horns,

for five minutes or more – a raggedy

wind ensemble of strangers wishing

strangers well. Now, in summer, the docks throng

with translucent, pink-tinged Moon Jellyfish.

 

 

 

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  1. #1 by John Huddart - July 22nd, 2013 at 08:39

    Ah, Liverpool – impossible not to be moved by the images of change and decay. Like a geological cross section of history’s muddy deposits. Liverpool is a lot of things and always changing identities, as the poem points out – and the good old Mersey, ever trying to decide if it’s a river, and of the land, or an estuary, and of the sea.

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