Within furlongs of the refinery,
the car show rooms and the retail park
are Viking colonies – for fish and farm
in the rich, marshy land on the south bank
of the estuary, where the river’s
current made a wide, shallow pool before
the mammoths and the sabre-toothed tigers left.
Some of the hamlets are part of the town –
others are down haphazard hedgerow lanes.
Upstream the sugar ships docked, the slavers sailed.
In the town, on the railings of the nascent
mosque erstwhile Wesleyan chapel, beneath
high rise flats,



The most senior staff had their offices
at one corner of the building, stacked
one above the other. From their desks,
through one of their three sets of long windows,
they could watch the tidal river’s ebb and flow
and the decline of the salmon. If they stood
at another they could see upstream
to the medieval sandstone bridge – the river
susurrating beneath its arches –
and, beyond, the meadows prone to flooding.

Like most county halls it was an empty
rectangle. Of those with their own offices –



This is the hardest month. Five days ago
clouds, as big as ships, in a blue sky blew fast
southwards. Next day there was an icy fog
that had silvered the lichen on the copse.
The sun had caught it. As the light rose the fog
dispersed and, through the damaged branches,
a church tower appeared – high, square, gothic.

Three days ago I crossed the motorway.
(I had entered the wrecked services first
to collect bottled water and oat bars).
A jack-knifed artic was still smouldering.
I looked away from the cars,



Something – among the sparse, medieval ruins
silhouetted against a powder blue sky –
is catching the sun intermittently.
Something, at the top of the steep hill – from here
by the town’s tumultuous rapids
more than a mile away – large enough
to flash in daylight like a lighthouse beacon.
A figure appears then two – small sticks
among the stones – and the light has shifted
from the stark gatehouse to the empty keep.
It shines steady and bright as a prying star –
then sun, wind,



In Funky Town – where small children govern
among the brightly coloured soft play kit
that is piled high in this former warehouse
and their cheerful, rumbustious music plays,
where they act with artistry and disdain,
form intense friendships that last a morning
and are comforted with varied ice creams,
and where assorted multi-cultural,
inter-generational adults,
snack on americanos with cold milk,
builders’ tea, apple crisps and burgers
with brioche buns and caramelised onions,
and by each table there are children’s shoes
and the occasional grown-up’s –