Now old enough at seven to sleep

in a little tent with her cousins

in the garden on a July night, she was

abducted, stifled, man-handled down

the shallow hill to the pebble beach

below the paddling pool, abused, murdered.


Next to the shelter by the pool, the council built

a playground with climbing frame and slide,

removed part of the shelter to house

a memorial her parents commissioned –

an open metal box, almost an altar,



Out one morning for an early flight,

when the sky was lit but the sun unrisen,

in a Surrey suburb full of trees,

the air itself I breathed was trembling

with the sound of all the songbirds of the earth,

an embracing, shimmering polyphony.


I hear it still – and remember a time,

walking home before dawn fifty years ago

in a Liverpool suburb filled with trees,

this fabled sound I had never heard,

a polyphony,



I  was invited to go power boating

on the Illinois River on Labor Day.

My elderly hosts were retired.

He had been a builder, she a teacher –

caring folk looking out for a stranger.

They had Scottish ancestry, they told me,

and confessed, laughing, that they had spent

the previous night imbibing Drambuie.

We spoke warmly of the water of life.

‘But no drinking on board!’ they chorused.

Old Glory hung limply in their yard

in the soupy Mid-West September air.



Bernini’s colonnades lead to the centre

of the known world – of hewn porphyry,

of granite kept in its place, of usury.

Irony turns each illuminated page,

celebrates the dissemination

of the word, funds the seeding of Europe

beyond oceans, in jungle, across pampas,

over sierra.  Only the clash of

vultures and the seas’ predictable tides

can erase carrion from argent sands.

How light the Saviour is! The Virgin seems

to hold him with such ambivalent ease:

a supplicant offering a sacrifice,



Though it’s only September, the day cruise

from Heraklion to Santorini

hits dirty weather: rain, wind and high waves.

The toilets are awash with vomit.


We arrive in sunshine and calm waters.

The immense caldera diminishes

all manner of cruise ships. We ascend

the three hundred metre pumice cliff

by cable car – eschewing the footpath

and the donkeys. We visit Akrotiri –

like Pompeii, a city redeemed from ash.

There is the Admiral’s three storey house

with its stone path to the harbour –



After the reading, we strolled down Brownlow Hill

for a Guinness and a chaser at The Vines

next to The Adelphi on Lime Street –

a Walker’s pub in Edwardian baroque.

The westering sun lit the stained glass windows.


We were both young men then. He had been married

the year before. I would be married

later that year. His first book had been published

by Faber and Karl Miller’s prescient review

seemed genuinely to bemuse and amuse him.