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.