Witness The Great Wallenda, an aging
high wire artiste, who, for his final act,
required technology’s summation –
tv, automobiles, bottles of plasma;
crossed a canyon on cable thin as a wrist;
walked on wire a quarter of a mile
above the earth. He stood, twice, on his head
and the crowds of thousands gasped, then cheered,
the noise muffled in that oh! profound gorge.
Hear them, silent on the leads,
watching their comrades,
the ensign, the corporal and the private
shot by firing squad
amongst the elms in the graveyard below.
Under the leaves in the summer,
Cromwell’s New Model Army
was practising democracy,
selecting all ranks for exemplary death –
the only leveller.
A lark starting from the heather; a lamb
amazed by a heron; a hare gutted
at a turn in the road; the familiar path
obscured by fern, bramble, convolvulus:
the gallery in my head is open
all hours – by turns, thriving and derelict.
The sparrow in my chest, where my heart lay,
now flings itself at broken panes, now stills.
At the end of the pier, where steamships docked,
black-headed gulls and anglers watch and wait.
The steel-faced laughing man will read our stars.
After the fluorescent shops and the snatched music,
the side street was damp and dark –
but a bag of chips and a manipulative adult
made the emptiness freedom.
Waterways were trawled and the usual,
time-dishonoured suspects questioned.
Down river, high tides returned her nine year old body.
The funeral cortège was a carriage and horses
and the local press was effulgent.
But gossip condemned her single mother,
About teatime, when the coals were glowing
liquid orange and cream, strands of soot
would catch on the fireback,
flickering like torches in a forest.
And behind the wireless’ fretwork facade
the valves were alight with Uncles and Aunties,
soothing, articulate, evocative and refined,
bringing us safely to the Weather and the News.
We listened to the same wonders, you and I,
tuned the static and the soot to pre-pubescent stories,
sensing there was something else
beyond the sideboard.