Archive for 2016

THE SILVER SCREEN

Let be be finale of seem.The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.’

THE EMPEROR OF ICE CREAM, Wallace Stevens

 

I try to imagine your childhood as if

it were mine – not just the steep terraced street

called ‘Coronation’ and the ice cream

factory round the corner at the bottom

but the cinema twenty feet away

showing double features every night

except Sunday and Saturday matinées

with The Three Stooges and Roy Rogers.

 

Ours minds were full of an America

that shimmered, that was large and echoed loudly

in the street – of love, anger, laughter, justice.

Our ears were filled with the roar of aircraft

from the local base. Behind the hall –

in the unlit entry where projectionists

took a smoke and couples courted after shows –

someone daubed in black paint, ‘Yanks Go Home!’,

and it is still there almost pristine! ‘Ars

longa, vita brevis,’ as some Roman wrote.

 

You shoot from the hips like Jane Russell,

utter coruscating one-liners

like Hepburn, whisper sweet everythings

like Veronica Lake. What sort of man

would I be now if I had slept only

yards from such magic! Perhaps a maker

of ice cream,  an emperor of seeming?

 

 

 

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HORIZONS

From this house on its hill the sea appears,

through a gap in the trees two fields away,

like a wall  – grey, green, blue: the horizon

straighter than any true line in nature.

 

A spider perhaps two millimetres long

has spun a web in the outside corner

of a window frame. It catches flies twice,

thrice its size daily. Our granddaughter

and I monitor it before breakfast.

 

The bullocks see us and, curious like

all young creatures, trot over. Jostling

slightly, they lift their heads above the wall.

We can smell their sweet, grassy breaths, look

into their large chocolatey pupils, see

the pristine nap of their hides, count the flies

clustered round their tear ducts.

 

A south westerly is billowing the rain

like wispy smoke across the pastoral fields

and shimmying the woods of tall trees

in their finery like underwater weeds.

The sodden wide sandy beaches out of sight

beyond the shallow gap in the trees

have witnessed immemorial shipwrecks.

 

As the bullocks will, the web has gone.

She is too young to think of the past as past.

Spider and flies and the web’s almost straight lines

will be etched like dry points pristinely.

 

 

 

 

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LESSONS FROM HISTORY

Snapped black and white in Kodak Verichrome,

more than seventy years ago, by an aunt

with a Kodak Brownie, I am supine

in a small pram. The park’s avenue

of lime trees in leaf suggests May

and therefore me, coverless, five months.

My fingers are clasped and bare feet are crossed,

like an effigy’s or a lounge lizard’s.

I am awake and eyeing the camera,

through half-shut lids, like an insulted

potentate – or an about-to-be-mardy

baby.  Behind me, in the distance,

is the spire of the Victorian

sandstone parish church, in the middle ground

tennis courts and someone serving.

 

Beside me, in sharp focus (on a bench

with concrete ends and wooden slats, ‘There’s-

a-war-on-you-know’ weeds burgeoning

beneath it) my mother, a handsome woman

with rich, auburn hair, a war widow since March –

her ancestors Welsh seafarers, some drowned,

some landlocked.  She is almost smiling.

 

Most days, in all seasons, we walk the park,

an Edwardian legacy, named

for Queen Alexandra, a fashionista

mother of six, a loather of Prussians –

being a daughter of a Danish king –

and disabled over time by her deafness,

then slowly losing speech and memory.

We talk of the present – how our daughter laughed

on the swings and now her daughter does.

 

 

 

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THE FAULT

Unlike those of us whose curse is to live

in interesting times, those who walk dogs

is to have their pampered pooch revert

to the wilderness and find body parts –

as there on the shore on the bonny loch

at Christmastide, just at the point

where the road turns sharp right from the shore

and up the bank, where Rob Roy drove the kine

he had ‘stolen’, the geological fault line

where lowland and highland meet, the frontier

of so much English sponsored butchery.

 

In the 3 star hotel with its wall-to-wall

tartan carpet, we spoke of little else

over yuletide lunch and buffet supper.

What dog? What owner? What parts? What killer?

On Boxing Day storms came, trees fell, guests left.

 

At home, in the south, we saw the bulletin –

a lad on a Christmas Eve piss-up,

seduced, dismembered, broadcast to the waters –

and wondered as so often before

what species we belong to. And thought

of the anonymous dog walker

alive to all that impartial beauty –

the stillness of the ancient pinewoods,

the snow on the mountains reflected in the lake

in that troubled, emptied land – calling the pet

gnawing at the pebbles.

 

 

 

 

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THINKING OF AMERICA

‘Unlike any nation in Europe, the United States holds whiteness as the unifying force.’

MAKING AMERICA WHITE AGAIN, Toni Morrison

 

Twenty five years ago – the year of the First

Gulf War, the launching of the World Wide Web,

the repeal of South Africa’s Apartheid Law,

and the ‘End of History’ – one August

Saturday in Godfrey, Illinois –

a town on the Mississippi bluffs –

I watched the wooden New England style

Church of Christ at Monticello cross the road,

on hydraulic jacks, to the Lewis & Clark

Community College campus. The crowd

was affable, and overwhelmingly white.

A marching band played ‘Tie a yellow ribbon’,

and Old Glory was in abundance.

To cheers the steeple bell was rung and rung.

 

The college had been the Monticello

Female Seminary, founded in

1835 by Captain Godfrey –

a retired fisherman from Cape Cod –

for whom the town was named. He believed,

‘When you educate a woman you

educate a family’. He admired

Thomas Jefferson – Founding Father,

president and conflicted slave owner –

so named the finishing school after

his primary Virginia plantation.

 

Meriwether Lewis and William Clark –

U.S. Army officer volunteers –

were commissioned by President Jefferson

to map the West, mind the French, impress the Sioux

and expand the concept of the thirteen states

beyond the confluence of the great rivers.

They set off from the banks of the nearby

Wood River and crossed the Mississippi

to sail up the Missouri to its source

two thousand miles away in the Rockies

across the lush and pristine Great Plains.

 

*

 

In the small town on the limestone bluffs

where bald eagles nest above the river

Adams, Washington, Franklin et al

would have felt at home that August day,

recognising most present as descendants –

collegial,  patriotic, Anglophone,

Protestant and white. Now, across the vast

darkling fields of the republic, they would hear

incessantly Jefferson’s prescient

‘…the knell of the Union…this act

of suicide…of treason against the hopes

of the world…a fire bell in the night…’

clanging, clanging, clanging.

 

 

 

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