A SHROPSHIRE LAD…

…is the first book of poetry I owned –

a breast pocket sized hardback, slightly foxing.

It was my father’s: his name neatly

in capitals on the inside cover

in indelible pencil – a Londoner,

the son of immigrants. When I was ten

my mother gave it me. I liked the first line

‘From Clee to heaven the beacon burns’,

imagining it set to music.

 

Following his death on active service, the book

was sent back with all his other things.

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THE SORES OF WAR

‘…sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments…’ President Donald J. Trump

 

In a letter to the New York Times three years

before the war General Robert E. Lee

described slavery per se as ‘a moral

and political evil’ and, in the States,

‘a greater evil to the white man’

than the black. In 1857 Lee

had been his father-in-law’s executor.

George Custis had manumitted his slaves

on his death bed there and then but ‘no white man

was in the room’.

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RIVA DEI SETTE MARTIRI, VENICE

If you stroll far enough, long enough eastwards

on Riva Degli Schiavoni (Shore

of the Slaves) – before it was a wide,

stone promenade it was sand and mud  –

stroll away from the crowds, past the Danieli,

the Arsenale, the vaporetto stops

and beyond, with San Georgio Majore

across the Bacino Di San Marco –

you come to the Shore of the Seven Martyrs,

where now private yachts and small cruise ships dock.

 

It was the Riva Dell’Imperio –

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MOUNTAIN VIEW

Some time after midnight, when the bars have closed,

the hoots and laughter of revellers

on the stone-clad stairs wakes us. Much later

wind, billowing through the open corridors

of the steel framed building, shakes our door

intermittently like some errant soul.

In the shallow valley below the hotel

a cock crows above the gusts and the rattles.

 

***

 

In the morning a warm west wind blows

over the sea from what was Carthage.

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JEWISH TUNES

Cole Porter was an Episcopalian,

a farmer’s son, from Peru, Indiana,

whose ambition was to write ‘Jewish Tunes’.

My mother’s favourite song was ‘Begin

the Begine’, which Cole Porter composed,

the story goes, one evening at the piano

in The Ritz Bar of the Ritz Hotel, Paris.

The love song is in a minor key.

It personifies longing, wit, irony.

 

My mother and father met in the city

of Kano, Northern Nigeria.

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