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WATER SELLERS, BROOKLYN BRIDGE

It was 82 and humid the Sunday

before 9/11 when we walked

onto the crowded bridge from Brooklyn Heights.

Two teenage Latino-looking girls –

unsmiling, unsure, uneasy – were standing

by an insulated cart – no doubt

pushed up the walkway by some enterprising

dad or brother – filled with plastic bottles

of glistening water. The sellotaped price

was two dollars – but trade was measured

despite the weather. A guarded city

even in diversity? I thought of Hart Crane’s

‘Migrations that must need void memory,

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WINTER

Footballers in the park grow younger, play

longer into December nights. In my garden,

leaves decompose. Fogs rise to the window.

I see my father’s features in the glass.

 

Gulls are grave, funereal in their white

seriousness. Bad weather visitors,

fickle as spume-flecks, they flitter from grass

into heavy skies, craftsmen in gravity.

 

Winter is too human for comfort.

Natural we should shudder as darkness

drifts in sooner. Ice seasons carry home

truths on incisive air.

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BY ANY OTHER NAME

 For Sandra Lewis

 

We were unsure where to put the Christmas Rose,

aka hellebore niger, you brought us

this December gone. We chose, pro tem, the room

where I write, with its two long windows.

The light the north facing one lets in

is unambiguous. The other accepts

occasional sun from late mornings

to early evenings. I write in a corner

by a wall of books. With its much travelled

piano,

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BREAK AN EGG!

I am reminded of Professor Wallofski’s

Omelette, Prince of Demark, and the rotten egg

the curate ate, watching this particular

‘peasant rogue…tear a passion to tatters’

as if each word were merely a bagatelle

on a stage the size of a tennis court.

‘Oh, what a noble mind…’ But, yoking apart,

who would wander those chill corridors,

discouraged by the guttering torches

in their sconces, where duty and hatred,

love and negligence throng in the smoky

shadows only words discombobulate –

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NO LESS LIQUID

‘Cats no less liquid than their shadows
Offer no angles to the wind…’
CATS II, A.S.J. Tessimond

 

With your lithe delight, at the refuge for strays

and rejects, you and she chose each other

immediately. She had a white tuft

at her throat but otherwise was truly

sable; with Egyptian eyes – emerald,

unblinking, discerning; a sycophantic

charmer; an aloof dowager; a great

mouser, night or day, bearing carcasses

as reward for those that worshipped her.

 

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THE ABATTOIR AT MAZINGARBE

The push for Aubers Ridge had been postponed

because of rain. But the Saturday

was dry and sunny. Going up the line

in the early evening, the Munsters

stood easy at the shrine to Our Lady.

‘…in remissionem peccatorum…’

By noon, next day, nearly half were dead,

caught on the German wire Haig’s ill equipped

artillery had, once more, failed to cut.

 

In Mazingarbe, an industrial town

ten miles south, the British commandeered

the abattoir.

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STAPLETON COTTON 1ST VISCOUNT COMBERMERE

Stapleton Cotton 1st Viscount Combermere’s

equestrian statue, surrounded now

by traffic, would grace any capital.

For more than a hundred and fifty years

set before Chester Castle he rides south

towards Thomas Harrison’s Grosvenor Bridge

– once the longest single-span arch in the world –

opened by Princess Victoria.

The Viscount – soldier, politician,

diplomat – holds his feathered bicorne

at his side as if just removed in salute.

 

Though Combermere’s seat (once an abbey,

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THE FORK IN THE ROAD

They would never know that the narrow lanes –

one right, up the thickly wooded hill,

the other, following the valley’s curve,

quickly out of sight – led to the same place,

and that the few houses there were shuttered.

 

They had stopped – the diesel puttering,

the brown exhaust fouling the summer air –

in front of the triangle of long grass,

with a glass fronted shrine at its centre,

that marked the fork in the road. The officer

searched the landscape with binoculars,

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THE GARIBALDI STATUE, VENICE

Usually on a geometric plinth,

sometimes ahorse, once like Charlemagne,

here at the end of the wide, tree lined gravelled

Viale Giuseppe Garibaldi

that leads from the Giardini Pubblici,

he stands, as if on an Appenine peak,

with one of his Red Shirts below to one side.

Though probably better known in Britain

for his eponymous biscuit, the hero

of both Italian freedom and unity

faces what had once been a canal

but was made a street in his honour,

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THE OUTING

Each Armistice Day, she remembered it.
A walk along the riverbank. Her teacher took them –
one Saturday when the hawthorn was out
and the river slow after weeks of sun –
her and three of the other older girls.
Miss Davies’ young man came too –
in his uniform, on leave from the front.

When they all rested in the shade of a willow,
he unwrapped a large bar of chocolate
slowly, looking away, or pretending to,
across the river.  Suddenly he turned.
‘Voila!’, he said, holding it out to them.

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