Above every Mairie flaps the Tricolour.
On every lawn, in every yard through the gut
of America – where the Great Plains began
before the farmers came with wheat and pigs
and soya fields – Old Glory flutters.
Above the reception desk in every
riad in Morocco the king’s photo hangs.
Here, things are never that unambiguous.
In a street near the foot of the Downs,
too steep for tables, they have strung bunting
from house to house, moved cars, hired a leaning
bouncy castle and shared barbecues.
This chalk, grassland common – that slopes upwards
to the flint ridge with its Pilgrim’s Way,
from Winchester to Canterbury,
for a Norman priest killed by Norman lords –
is a (mostly) English floral lexicon:
Meadow Cranesbane, Meadow Vetchling, Yellow-rattle,
Dove’s Foot Cranesbill, Common Spotted Orchid.
A Skylark ascends from the unmown grasses.
I think of Vaughan Williams’ orchestral piece,
with its shimmering solo violin,
the George Meredith poem which inspired it –
‘He rises and begins to round,
He drops the silver chain of sound,
Of many links without a break,
In chirrup, whistle, slur and shake’ –
Celts evoking the essence of what was theirs.
The party dwindles as the drizzle arrives.
To be English is to be contrarian –
not being Irish, Scots, Welsh or ‘foreign’.
At the top of the street, a patriot with
a large, St George’s Cross drooping above
the privet hedge, has lit a bonfire
in a garden incinerator. The rain,
now heavy, drums on the lid and, though sodden –
being dressed in England football strip –
he forces wet, tabloid newspapers down
the narrow funnel. Acrid smoke wafts up.
acridAmericabarbecuebonfirebouncy castleCanterburyCeltschalkcommonCommon Spotted OrchidcontrarianDove’s Foot CranesbilldrizzleEngland football stripEnglishFlintfloralforeignGeorge MeredithgrasslandGreat PlainsincineratorIrishlexiconMairieMeadow CranesbaneMeadow VetchlingMoroccoNormanOld GlorypatriotPilgrim’s WayprivetridgeScotsskylarkSt George’s Crosstabloid newspapersthe DownsTricolourVaughan WilliamsWelshWinchesterYellow-rattle