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NEW YEAR, BUDAPEST

On one of the corners of St Stephen’s square

is a café, the California

Coffee Company, with cheery slogans,

in English, extolling the benefits

of the bean. A window seat gives a view,

across the square, of the west entrance

to the basilica of Szent Istvan,

its portico embossed in gold with

‘Ego Sum Veritas et Vita’.

 

Our backs to the basilica we walk

down Zyrini Street towards the Danube,

Buda rising high on its western slopes.

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INTERSECTIONS

There is a young woman with a wooden hoop

almost as big as herself – and a small dog

not much bigger than her head – who performs

circus tricks, where Terez Boulevard meets

Andrassy Avenue – named for an Empress

and a Count before old Europe fell apart.

As the three lanes idle at red and the dog

waits on the kerb the girl and the hoop

become an astrolabe, a gyroscope

within the interstices of traffic lights.

When she stills and bows to the varied windscreens

the dog leaps to her shoulder and together –

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THE VIEW FROM THE BASTION

With her new camera, a  Christmas present,

and with the intuitive surety,

at not quite nine, of how to make a picture,

she makes a sunlit panorama of Pest

from the Fisherman’s Bastion in Buda –

a Magyar edifice of walls and towers

built in the nineteen hundreds to celebrate

the permanence of the Habsburg Empire.

In a wall’s shadow she shows me the screen,

and what she has angled by chance. I note

the parliament building, the Great Synagogue,

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BÖLCS VAR: THE HOUSE OF WISDOM

Formerly Buda’s town hall, courthouse, prison

and school, newly refurbished throughout

and re-named The House of Wisdom, it is now

bookshop, café, bistro, conference centre

and an esoteric museum –

in an eclectic city of museums

ranging from Marzipan through to Murder.

The refurbishment finally repaired

all the damage done by stray Red Army

artillery shells, and uncovered stonework –

exhibited behind glass now – not seen

since the Ottoman Empire ruled Hungary.

 

Eschewing the conundrum of hailing a cab –

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ALWAYS WITH YOU

On a snowy January Saturday

we were delayed for six hours or so

at Ferenc Liszt airport, Budapest.

Except for the purchase of a Pick sausage

and a small box of Gerbeaud chocolates

in Heinemann Travel Value/Duty Free

we spent our time in the Leroy Bistro

with its international fast food cuisine

from nigiri sushi to Wiener Schnitzel.

 

From my seat in the bistro I could see

continually an advert, a fifteen

by forty feet video with,

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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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