Archive for June, 2016

PASSING THE PARCEL

i.m. Ron Durdey

 

Each time I walk or drive by the one storey

Edwardian sandstone building with its

daunting windows and an entrance for Boys

and another for Girls and Infants

one of my alma maters, an All Age

Church of England school – a memory

will appear like a genie… It is Empire Day,

’51. Mr Youd, the Head Master,

takes the assembly. We sing, ‘I vow to Thee,

my country, all earthly things above,

Entire and whole and perfect…’ I whisper

something to a friend. ‘Stand on the mat!’

And I do but it is the wrong mat – not

the one outside his office where the rough boys

from the farms and the council estate wait

to be caned. He forgets me. He walks past

at break. ‘What’s your name?’ I tell him and see

he remembers and thinks carefully. ‘Go!

Count yourself lucky this time!’

 

I would like to think I had, at nine,

been mocking his imperial twaddle.

‘We may have lost India but…’ and knew

it was the wrong mat. Maybe I was sharing

my aunts’ views of him, his school peers:

toady, bully and a quarter master

corporal in Ceylon while their father

and step brothers were on the Western Front.

Perhaps the line ‘The love that makes undaunted

the final sacrifice’ made me think

of my father. Whatever it was

I had learned a lesson.

 

 

 

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EUREKA!

A realisation as sudden as

Archimedes’ leaping from his bath,

the moment when – in the pleasure gardens

of Wisley, with its giant rhubarb leaves,

its gaping carp, its hissing swans, its wild

playground – going for a well earned modest slab

of chocolate cake and a babychino

enhanced with spoonsful of Grandma’s latte,

pointing, she called out, “That says ‘Coffee Shop’!

I can read!”

 

 

Note: the poem was originally published in September 2015.

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AT THE END OF THE PIER

Past Songs of Yesteryear, Mystic Morgana,

and other booths – purveying Flags of the World,

Country & Western Memorabilia,

Decorous South Sea Shells, Home Made Welsh Fudge;

past the sustainable hardwood benches

with withered in memoriam bouquets;

over the planking with its measured gaps

through which to view, like a bioscope,

the incoming tide shimmy then shake

the fronds of bronze weeds among the rocks,

slap, strike the elegant, cast iron stanchions;

next to where even the line fishermen

are starting to stow their gear, as an east wind

begins to blow, is the Mariner’s Lounge

with its faux fishing nets, its mounted

plastic cod, its framed chart of the North Wales coast.

 

Those Tinsel and Turkey pensioners

adventurous enough to leave their hotels –

crescented along the town’s North Shore –

are sipping, with the odd Walkers’ crisp,

a Rombout’s coffee, a Gallo chardonnay,

a Carling, a Guinness, and watching

Hollywood tv repeats in HD

as sudden rain squalls against the glass.

 

Oh, to be transported warmly, safely,

to Beverly Hills – via Mulholland Drive

and Santa Monica Boulevard –

where, to portentous chords, perfect mysteries

are perfectly solved by pensionable folk!

 

 

 

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HUMAN HANDS

For Howard Gardener, Arthur Kemelman and Mike Rogerson

 

How I envy them to make with their fingers

precisely what their imaginations

and knowledge dictates! I have watched for hours

a plasterer creating surfaces

smooth as silk, a bricklayer building

an oriel window. I have three

disparate friends, each of them a stranger

to the others, but with this common skill.

One inlays turned olive wood with the green

of malachite, the blue of lapis

and the brilliance of gold leaf. Another,

to classic specifications, fashions

a guitar, constructs a steam engine.

The third is a surrealist sculptor

in paper, a dada master of drawing,

a pointillist painter of the absurd.

They are perfectionists, enamoured,

respectful of the materials they use,

heirs to such long traditions.

 

 

Note: Howard Gardener – http://www.howardgardener.co.uk/, Arthur Kemelman – https://www.etsy.com/people/arthurfred

 

 

 

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THE BATTLE OF THE SOMME

William the Conqueror’s fleet – of perhaps

five hundred long boats – assembled

in the Bay of the Somme. ‘History’

more or less rhymes with ‘irony’. The river

flowed through the flat bottomed chalky valley

steadily then and the years of the battle.

As the world has warmed, the water table

has risen, creating fens and marshes –

calm, bosky stretches catching the empty sky.

 

***

 

Numbers, for the most part, are abstract, even

of the British dead and wounded that first day –

slightly less than fifty eight thousand,

the population of present day

Aldershot, Bebington, Tunbridge Wells.

 

What is concrete is that those undernourished

young British men (my age or less when I

first read about them) climbed the ladders

up the trench walls, crossed no-man’s-land, marched

in lock step to death each carrying –

in addition to their Lee-Enfield rifle –

an entrenching tool, two gas helmets,

two grenades, two sandbags, two hundred

and twenty rounds of ammunition,

a pair of wire cutters, and extra rations

of corned beef, condensed milk and hard tack.

 

***

 

Innumerable raindrops still course beneath

the unanswered roll-calls of cemeteries

whose white grave markers parade in lock step,

a permanent muster of ignorant,

frail, oblivious boys.

 

 

 

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