AT CHESTER CROSS


I am standing near the loud evangelists

by the medieval sandstone cross that marks

the centre of this erstwhile Roman camp,

Castra Deva, base for two centuries

of the Twentieth, Valeria Victrix

streets south and west to the Dee, east to forests

and the lush plain, north to sandstone outcrops.

 

The Presbyterian rhetoric

of Damnation and Sweet Jesus keeps

other spectators away, gives me

a clear view of the midsummer,

pagan parade – ‘I am the good shepherd:

the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep’ –

with its Hell’s Mouth on wheels, its samba band –

‘…he that is an hireling…whose own

the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming’ –

with its Romans, Vikings, giants, a dragon –

‘and fleeth: and the wolf scattereth the sheep’ –

with its Saint Werburgh, the city’s patron saint

(famed for resurrecting a goose)

and my three geese in white gowns following –

wife, daughter, granddaughter – but no sheep.

 

I move to a spec on one of the Rows,

unique first floor arcades, their origin

unknown but much admired by the Kaiser.

When I was at school in the city,

we would come to these Rows for a smoke,

our striped caps folded in our pockets.

Below was a tobacconist who sold

Cuban cigarettes in packets of 5.

How I would dream of the wide avenues

of a metropolis – of fame, romance

in its concert halls and libraries!

Directly opposite where I am waiting,

behind a Greek revival portico,

is a private club, its Masonic curtains

drawn. Here was the camp’s principia

headquarters of the legion and the province.

If the Empire had continued to expand

not consolidate before collapsing –

despite Rome’s alarming geese! – Deva

would have been Britannia’s capital.

 

The procession passes beneath me

in triumph – led by two street theatre

professionals, a husband and wife,

consummately engaging the crowds.

The evangelists are hectoring still,

threatening distantly, out of sight.

My geese are smiling still, cavorting,

even the littlest – earnest, seemingly

untiring – and my lucky heart fills with love.

All three are holding up their goosey standards

made by an artist – painted, sculpted

papier maché glued to frames of withies,

those lithe willow branches, slender, sturdy,

infinitely flexible, which have been used,

since antiquity, to keep safe ewes and lambs.

 

 

 

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