Archive for May, 2015

EXTERMINATE THE BRUTES

For Alex Cox

‘I am strongly in favour of using poison gas against uncivilised tribes.’ Winston Churchill

As usual, he dresses for town
in anticipation of the King’s summons –
which never comes. After breakfast, he reads
The Times and the Daily Telegraph, notes
Ghandi’s lenient sentence of six years
in prison without hard labour – then,
reflecting on unrest throughout the Empire,
puts on his smock and his homburg and strolls,
cigar lit, the short walk to his studio.
He pours a small portion of Johnny Walker –
the bottle kept always with a clean glass
on the bench he sits on to paint – and adds
a measure of Vichy water. He is working
on a painting of his son reclining
in a deck chair on a terrace in Leghorn.
After the third glass he dreams as usual.

He captures Peter the Painter personally
at the Siege of Sidney Street. Gallipoli
is a famous victory. He leads
his country in war and is returned to power
by an ever so grateful nation. He wakes
and paints in the features of his wayward
son named for his own wayward father.

After the fourth he dreams again. He persuades
the King, at last, to order the razing
of Liverpool as punishment for
the seamen’s strike and the policemen’s strike.
At first light on a soft summer dawn
the dreadnought battleship HMS
Nemesis drops its anchors opposite
Wallasey Town Hall and trains its 15 inch
guns firstly on the Three Graces. He wakes
suddenly as he always does knowing
that, viewing the devastation from the
Avro Bison flying north above
the ruins of West Derby Road, he would see
the few Celts who survived fleeing to where
they had no place, the Lancashire hinterland –
west to the lush, orderly market gardens
of The Fylde and east to the cotton towns,
bustling, regimented. He has a fifth,
lights a cigar and strolls back for lunch.

 

 

Note: the poem was first published by Exterminating Angel Press – http://exterminatingangel.com/eap-the-magazine/exterminate-the-brutes/

 

 

 

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WATCHING THE LAMBS

From the Ackermans’ seat near the lift bridge
on the Llangollen Canal – tree-lined
for the most part but open here – the view
has become a perennial favourite.
We watch cyclists, joggers, walkers pass,
and the narrow boats that have journeyed
from Nantwich, Dudley, Worcester – and we nod and smile.
But best of all in late March/early April
are the lambs on the pasture opposite
that rises, with occasional oaks,
gently to an escarpment that ends
beneath high limestone cliffs that sever the sky.

This part of Wales was once near the South Pole –
and has variously been: deep-sea mud,
crumpled, fractured by the movements of the earth;
a shallow, fertile tropical sea;
a swamp with giant mosses; a vast, hot,
featureless desert inundated by the odd
flash flood; an ice sheet shaping the landscape.
All gone in the shake of a lamb’s tail…

The ewes chop grass as if they were on piece work.
Their offspring thrust at them for milk or stare
at something new or lounge in the sun
or explore the barbed wire edges of our,
oh, so temporary world.

 

 

 

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LA PALMA

For Caroline Reeves

The airport signs are in the four languages
of Spain – Basque, Castilian, Catalan,
Galician – three of which Franco outlawed.
(Our Eroski bag will tell us how to
recycle it in all four). El Caudillo,
slightly chinless, rendered the country
tongue-tied for a generation and more.

We arrive at the same time as the swifts –
which buzz our apartment’s balcony
at sunset and loop across the clay-tiled
roof tops and past the Moorish chimneys
– and the last of the vendavales
blowing round the Gothic cathedral
and the archway to the walled Arab harbour.

Next day, we marvel at the fish stalls
in the market, a Mediterranean
cornucopia – now including salmon!
We stroll along the corniche
by the extensive marina, note
the fishing port reduced to two quays
and the multiple moorings of Russian
oligarchs’ and Arabian despots’
gargantuan yachts and power boats.
We stop in a glass-walled bar for a latte.
Billie Holiday sings, ‘Rocks in my heart.’

Next morning, we stroll in the old town.
We pass a graffito, ‘Passada
a l’rumor! Partit de la Llibertat! ‘
‘Pass on the rumour! Freedom exists!’
As we enter Plaça de Sant Francesc,
a man is being arrested. Squad cars
flash their blue lights. Nuns watch from the windows
of the convent school by the basilica.
We can hear the excited voices of girls.

That evening, we eat at the Portic
in the Plaça – grilled turbot, aioli
and a small carafe of the house red.
As we return to the apartment
through the narrow, tenemented streets,
swifts chafe the warm air. And it is nothing,
nothing and everything…

 

 

 

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THE GARLAND

Walking on the towpath of Telford’s canal,
admiring the engineer’s genius,
from the horseshoe shaped weir on the Dee,
which siphons off the mountains’ waters
to fill the channels from here to Hurleston;
remarking the current that combs the grasses
that lie on the bed like Ophelia’s hair;
breathing in the smell of the wild garlic –
a favourite of brown bear and wild boar;
marvelling at its white starbursts, like snow
on the wooded banks below the canal;
passing the holiday narrow boats –
with their tvs and showers and toilets;
we round a curve and see, with the landscape
of river vale, fields and unwalled hills
behind them, three girls laughing and one
with a garland of flowers of wild garlic.

 

 

 

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A PUBLIC MAN

i.m. David Robinson

At the celebration of his life –
in an erstwhile garrison church now
educational centre – there was music,
applause, laughter, sadness, his cardboard coffin
with red roses and his panama hat.
And it was as if he were there – as he was,
for sure, in the gathered memories
of the many present and the many,
in absentia, who had written.
The order of service commanded
‘All Sing The Red Flag’, and printed the words –
and most did, not just the comrades like us
who savoured and relished his serious joke.

Gathered outside in the soft May light,
greeting friends and colleagues then watching
as the cortège took its gradual leave, we
found ourselves applauding in that public place.

There are some you cannot believe are dead.
You would be unsurprised if they turned up
one day and continued a conversation
they had begun a week before, a decade.
So as I walk the Millennium Greenway –
part of the old Cheshire Lines railway
recycled (pun intended) – I can imagine
his cycling towards me, stopping, listening,
laughing richly at ironies then tell me,
with charm and gravitas, what I need to know.

 

 

 

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