Archive for October, 2014


‘Even if I could have done when I was young what I’m doing now –
and it is what I dreamed of then – I wouldn’t have dared.’  Henri Matisse

In his early eighties – a magician
in colours with his (genuinely)
lovely assistant, Lydia – Matisse
creates a canvas, twenty five foot
by eleven, of pinned-on then glued-on
painted paper cut-outs of fronds and fruits,
in many colours, and a profound blue
parakeet and a profound blue mermaid –
seductive, tropical and teeming…
his Oceania revisited,
his northener’s revelation of the south.

There are parakeets – befittingly green –
in the Surrey Hills and mermaids rumoured,
hair flowing fast, far upstream in the Wey.
There are, for certain, by Afon Conwy
sea lavender, thrift and birds foot trefoil
and, in the channels the low tide forms,
curlews and egrets wading and the sea-racked,
black struts of wrecks. Beyond are the purple, mauve,
lilac mountains…my epiphany, my south.

I cut and paste at will and muse with my
‘assistant’ of so many years – lovely,
genuine – on art, youth and aspiration.
Had I known when I became a poet
half a century ago that I could write
this then would I have dared?




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Whether from intellectual snobbery or a formally made choice
or wilful ignorance I genuinely cannot remember but,
while my peers strove to be tuned in to the Station of the Stars –
the shifting wave lengths of Luxembourg, and the easy wiles
of Horace Batchelor’s ‘Infra-draws’ and Jimmy Savile’s ‘Guys ‘n Gals’ –
I would listen, on a plastic Bush valve radio in my bedroom,
to the Third Programme and heard, one night, by chance,
in Richard Burtons’s malted baritone, ‘To begin at the beginning:
it is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless
and bible-black…’ and I knew then that the making of words –
the dark, solitary skill – would craft mind and heart, soul and brain.




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It was county council green, wooden, with
metal-rimmed wheels and a curved roof
like a Roma caravan, and a triangular limber
for towing by clanking, ponderous steamrollers –
before petrol driven lorries took the road menders
to and fro in what, for a time, would have seemed
like no time at all. This one – abandoned pre-war –
was parked, throughout my childhood, on the verge
at a country cross roads.

It entered my dreams. I thought God worked there,
hunched in his robes above an operating table,
serious in his beard, bringing forth babies.

Whenever I approach that cross roads,
I remember the dream and being a child
and the image of God, though God
and childhood have long been abandoned.




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We are in the thronging, discordant food hall
at Euston Station, London, sipping
a latte and an americano from Caffé Ritazza,
taking the first bite of our Upper Crust bagettes –
mozzarella & tomato, pastrami & emmental –
while looking out for the disabled pigeon
that hops, scavenging, under the tables,
when we are approached, politely, gently,
by a bearded man with a shabby shoulder bag
from which he presents us with
an asymmetrically trimmed piece of paper
comprising a printed list, which appears
as if processed on an Amstrad PC:
‘I am a deaf mute.
I have no work.
I have a family to support.
Please help me, for the love of God.’
He also leaves a professionally produced
Romanian (we think) prayer card.
We notice he has disseminated the sheets
and the cards to all the tables
in our vicinity. He returns for the harvest.
Some give, most do not. We contribute more or less
the tithe of our meal. He takes his printed sheet,
leaves us the card, nodding his unsmiling thanks.
He moves on. The cacophony returns.

On the Virgin train to Crewe, we log-on.
‘Maica Domnului’, the prayer begins
– Romanian, ‘Mother of God’. (The giver
may be Roma, we think – informed judgement
or prejudice). It is, we deduce,
St Augustine’s intercessory prayer.
On the front of the card an icon
of the Virgin and Child is reproduced.
Mother and son are appropriately doleful.
She points to him, as if saying, ‘He is the one’.
Perhaps we have been conned. Maybe
our meek beggar has an apartment at Canary Wharf,
with those other cartoon characters,
The Masters of the Universe, and our modest gamble
will not have paid off. In English, as in Romanian,
‘charity’ and ‘justice’ are Latinate words. The British,
like the Roman Empire, kept the concepts distinct.
Interestingly, in Hebrew, one word encompasses both.




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We do not have a cat. Consequently,
the neighbours’ cats disport themselves on our
property – one in particular,
a black and white, besmirching the rhubarb,
sitting hopefully under the bird feeder,
alert to the blackbirds hurriedly eating
the ivy berries far above, or,
like its prey, perched on the bird bath, licking
the water. A quick study – I appear,
it scarpers – though, as yet, has not mastered
the concept of windows so is startled
when I lumber gruffily into view.

We had a field mouse, found making a nest,
chewing an eclectic collection of
plastic carrier bags – Waitrose, the Co-op,
Carrefours, Duty Free at O.R. Tambo –
in the garden shed. Discovered, it looked,
unsurprisingly, like the mouse that
intimidated The Gruffalo
and we thought of our grand daughter – so carefully
let the little mother-to-be escape
into the bushes beneath the garden wall
and thence back into the wilderness.
We did cat sentry-go till the rustlings stopped.

Two refugees, neither welcome, both
easily killed – one escorted gently
to the border, the other hounded daily.
What moral, sentimental beasts we are!
The piebald cat, out of reach on the fence,
eyes me quizzically, head fetchingly
to one side, and I feel pity and guilt.

A week later, the cat continuing, meanwhile,
its incursions, I find, on the path,
exactly half a mouse – head, torso, front feet
upright as if it were springing from the stones –
its claws, in death, like fists.




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