Archive for March, 2014

CHARITY

The gusts of wind, that fling the scattered rain

against the panes and flail the eucalyptus –

which jerks as if a frantic, shaken doll –

are lowing in the chimney like an owl.

I draw the curtains as the twilight goes,

switch on the laptop and begin to write,

thinking of those who are without – homeless,

hungry, thirsty – no more than a mile

let alone a continent away.

Though giving assuages, on stormy,

desperate nights, survivor’s guilt intrudes

like a draught. Can we only save, at best,

ourselves and not the world?

 

 

 

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THE COAT HANGER

It is wooden, a gent’s, with ‘Elder Dempster’

machined then varnished into one of

the shoulders. It belonged to the shipping line

which plied between Liverpool and Lagos,

via Freetown and Accra. It was purloined,

accidentally or otherwise,

by my father or mother, possibly

the latter on her last trip home, with me

in her womb, to ensure a safer birth

in temperate climes –  U-Boats permitting.

 

He died of septicaemia three months

after I was born – from an ill judged

operation. ‘If I had been there…’

– she was a nurse – ‘…if I had been there…’

became the refrain of her widowhood,

with its depression and eventual

alcohol. When I was small she told me,

over and over, tales of that journey –

the traders from Accra rowing alongside,

the thunderstorms breaking over the mountains

of Sierra Leone, the ship’s captain

taking the vessel out of the convoy,

heading for the Sargasso Sea then north east

for home, always in plain sight but no booty

for a U-Boat captain also heading home.

 

For Aristotle, tokens of whatever

kind were a poor means by which to move

the action on. Life, however, though not

often, sometimes trumps art. This wooden

token of a skeleton tells a story.

 

 

 

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ONLY ARTIFICE WILL REMAIN

When a joiner made the oak frame of this

long sash window, when a builder set it

in the wall, when a glazier puttied

in the panes that keep the weathers in their place,

all I would have seen were hedges, fields, ponds

and grazing dairy cattle – before the rise,

the decline and the fall, in a hundred

and sixty years, of so many empires.

 

When I stand on the back doorstep and search

for the stars amid the urban glare and the overcast

and then look down I see me silhouetted

in the gazebo’s windows – like the figure,

in ‘Las Meninas’, whom we see through

an open door, having paused climbing the stairs

to briefly watch paint capture majesty.

 

I think of Xerses, anticipating

victory over all of Greece, the world,

watching his armies cross the Bosporus

into Europe, suddenly weeping,

knowing that none of them would be alive

a hundred years from then – and longing

for the pillars and for the gardens

of Persepolis. A century or more

later, Alexander the Great will scourge

the city’s entire populace. Only

artifice will remain.

 

 

 

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OF LEAST CONCERN

A young wood pigeon, not much more than a

nestling seems, at first, to be sheltering,

from the almost Mediterranean heat,

in the short shadows cast by the pots

of lilies and lavender.  But, closer,

I see it is limping, its left foot damaged.

Seeing me, it hobbles out of sight

into an exotic, Sleeping Beauty-type

border of camellia, crocosmia,

rhododendron. Later, an adult bird

lands, walks the edge of the border,

its head bobbing, then flies away. Next morning,

the young bird lies dead by the side gate.

 

I bury it behind the gazebo

in an undergrowth of ferns and roses

by the back wall, where we have interred –

over forty years – a budgie, a young swift,

a crippled rat, a female hen harrier,

a severed mouse and now the pigeon.

A low body count by any mark.

This time I say, ‘Come, little pigeon,’ as I

load the corpse, which the flies have already found,

on a spade. Someone may discover the sets

of bones, reconstruct the skeletons

and make up a story.

 

 

 

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WAITING FOR THE BUS FARE

The bus, its doors still open, is about

to depart on schedule. A young mother,

with a toddler, is talking loudly

on her mobile in the bus shelter,

telling whoever it is that she lacks

the fare and will wait for whoever it is

to bring it however long it takes.

Should I offer to give her the fare?

How would she react? How it would look?

 

With a pneumatic sigh the doors close.

I turn. She is still on the phone, clutching

the little boy’s arm. And I suddenly

remember – how full old age is of

memories that come like revelations –

rough chalk marks on our modest gate posts

and tramps, caps in hand, at the back door

of the small, thirties rented semi, begging

politely for a ‘cuppa’ and a ‘slice’,

before they had to enter the workhouse,

around the corner, or after they left it,

and my grandmother supervising

her daughters dispensing charity.

 

If I had been able to have asked them why,

seemingly alone in that aspiring,

suburban avenue, they would entertain

such guests, albeit on the back doorstep,

I know they would have answered, in surprise,

‘Why? You give what you should!’

 

 

 

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