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2019

‘O what fine thought we had because we thought

That the worst rogues and rascals had died out.’

NINETEEN HUNDRED AND NINETEEN, W.B. Yeats

 

Where the four main thoroughfares of our erstwhile

Roman city meet, a many-legged dragon,

in vivid gold and red, curved and reared, to gongs,

drums, fire crackers on a February day.

Dancers whirled long white ribbons, a whorl

of streamers like a wild, wispy sky.

This was the year of the omnivorous Pig,

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MARTIN MERE WETLAND, LANCASHIRE

Before the marsh on the coastal plain was drained –

to turn the dark, rich glacial soil

into the broad fields of market gardens,

selling fresh produce south to the port city

burgeoning daily from mouth to mouth –

the mere was vast, eight square miles and more.

 

Family groups wandered the margins –

to fish, collect eggs, snare birds. Settlements

became hamlets, became villages:

cutting the reeds for thatching, cutting the peat

for cooking fires from the ice age bogland.

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LORD WOOLAVINGTON’S HOUSE PARTY, AUGUST 1922

Jimmy Buchanan, self-made whisky tycoon,

became Lord Woolavington of Lavington,

Sussex, in January ’22.

He acquired his peerage, it was said,

with a post-dated cheque signed ‘Woolavington’.

To celebrate he hosted a lavish

grouse-shooting party that Glorious Twelfth

on his moorland estate near the Moray Firth.

 

To prepare for the party, heather had been scorched

so young grouse might fatten on the new shoots.

The corpses of polecats and pine martens

had been hung on gates and from fence posts,

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OUTLASTING KINGS

At Chester Zoo, where conservation rules

and breeding programmes thrive, there are three

Asiatic lions – two females

and a male, without progeny as yet –

in the old African lion compound,

one of Zoo’s first fairly spacious

enclosures. There is sand, grass, mature trees –

reflecting the creature’s historical range

from the Euphrates to the Indus,

from the Levant to the Bay of Bengal.

They have been hunted almost to death,

and are teetering on extinction’s edge

confined to a forest in Gujarat.

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ON THE 70TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE NATO ALLIANCE

Guarded from the people who elected them

and pay their wages, behind the high walls

of what was a country estate whose owners

hunted foxes for the fun, and answered

only to death and to penury,

the heads of state, with drums and with trumpets,

celebrate their fealty to weaponry –

while Australia’s forests are burning,

and bergs slip from glaciers into oceans

north and south, and melt discreetly, swiftly,

and Victoria Falls is silent, dry,

the plunging waters that were The Smoke

that Thunders,

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APPLES AT ERDDIG: A GLIMPSE OF AVALON

Beneath the rows of limes edging to yellow,

the air, tangible with precipitation,

appears almost emerald, a sea green.

 

In the border beside the high wall, which marks

the tended gardens from the unkempt woods,

there are blooms still. A bee gathers nectar –

and the black, turned earth ripples slowly

as a mole forages in the underworld.

 

***

 

Beyond ruined Troy, and north of Paradise

abandoned, from where our words began,

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THE FOX

The fox came to his patio his first night

at the absurdly named Augustus Gardens.

The beginnings of emphysema –

slight punishment for nearly sixty years

of cigarettes – had forced the exchange

of a fifth floor city centre apartment,

with a view of the quays, for a ground floor

suburban residential home ensuite,

and the abandonment of decades of vice

with Passing Cloud, Lucky Strike and Gitanes.

 

He had been weary but sleepless;

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OF VANITY

‘…a very stable genius…’

DONALD J. TRUMP, Tweet 6.1.18.

 

One of the prints hanging in my grandmother’s

bedroom was Waterhouse’s ‘Echo

and Narcissus’. In a bosky, rather

English landscape, Narcissus and Echo –

before he became a flower and she a sound –

lie and sit respectively: she entranced with him,

and he with himself in the slow brook.

 

As a boy I thought it a picture

of a good looking chap and a pretty girl

with water and lilies,

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ORGANISED CRIMES

I watched the TV parade of affluent

(and mostly public school) chancers, liars,

fantasists, hypocrites, law-breakers

vie to top each other’s warmed-up clichés

and self-serving platitudes. The social

and economic future dystopia most

seemed to desire would, they assured us,

bring out the British best in all of us,

just like the Blitz. I thought of bomb-razed

building lots in major cities still empty –

and a tale a cabby told me years ago,

taxiing me from the railway station.

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POPPIES

Though we are not quite half way through November

four poppies are blooming in the front garden.

Papaver orientale: voluptuous,

shell-pink; stamens a dark heliotrope;

a cultivar by Cedric Morris, artist

and plantsman, who searched Suffolk’s hedgerows and fields

for common poppies with softer colours –

that simple weed the usual scoundrels

have made a shibboleth of belonging.

 

A night of wind and rain has downed all but one

in the narrow border, where sedum,

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