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BIRTHDAY GIRL UNDER HOUSE ARREST

‘It takes a village to raise a child’ YORUBA PROVERB

 

The rest of us are dressed for January’s

damp chill but she greets us on the driveway in

cool boots, black tights, black skirt, white shirt, and red cloak

Grandma has made for TikTok performances.

She smiles briefly, then gurns. A homemade cake

is brought carefully through the front door,

with candles blazing,  duly blown out.

We sing the song, and mark her eleven years

upon the earth. She is lovely,

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A SENTIMENTAL EDUCATION

In a local church hall we wait,  with fellow

ancients, for our first Pfizer vaccination.

Ours is a generation that has received,

since childhood, the blessings of technology

and science. Though the glitter ball

is stationary and the stage curtains drawn

there are shades still of dancing and pantomimes –

and, in the observation tent outside,

the fifteen minutes is quite jolly,

definitely determined. We humans are

social animals, prone to good causes.

 

We drive home in warm,

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LOCKDOWN

For Fikekahle Dlalisa

 

The casual use of an American

penal term as a figurative cliché

suggests our usual status quo is being

in some sort of custody. In consequence

the clamour of public nonsense rises

about the nature and scope of liberty.

 

Freedom is choice not action. Walking

with a Zulu friend in a busy mall

on the edge of Soweto, “Look,” he said,

“see how people do not crowd each other,

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HINDSIGHT

From Moscow to London, Stockholm to Venice

the world froze at 10, 12, 15 below

for three months. Wine froze in bottles, cows in byres,

and wolves came down to villages scavenging.

Tree trunks shattered. Church bells once rung fractured.

Travellers crossed the Baltic on horse-back,

skaters glided under the Rialto.

 

The War of Spanish Succession was paused

for more clement weather – and regiments

of Swedish soldiers died in Russian blizzards,

ceding victory in the Great Northern War

to Peter the Great almost by default.

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SUN SETTING ON A WINTER’S DAY  

Streaks of greyish cloud above the lovat hills

on the far shore attenuate the sunset

with striations of orange and yellow.

For a moment clouds part, and the sun

radiates a shearing silver like some

Turner landscape, or Wagnerian

allegory. And, as if on cue,

with a suddenness that shocks, amazes,

from the hidden lagoons amongst the reeds,

multiple flocks of geese rise calling, flying

towards the river’s mouth, fluttering shadows

receding into dark.

 

 

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YOUNG VOICES CONCERT, MANCHESTER, JANUARY 2020

The Arena has become an aviary.

As we walk along the narrow corridor

into the auditorium, the sound

of eight and half thousand young voices

all chattering simultaneously

with wonder overwhelms us like a blast

of tropical heat, like a wall of bird song.

 

The music starts, the house lights go down.

In unison, as they begin to sing

‘Ode to Joy’, each one of the thousands

of song birds switches on a white, bright beam,

which shimmers and waves,

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THE PRICE OF FISH AND THE VALUE OF NOTHING

When I was a boy I was often taken

to the aquarium on the promenade

by the Palace Pier, Brighton – a resort

and commuter town on England’s south east coast.

It was an hour’s train journey from London

on the Pullman Brighton Belle – with its curtains

and its table lamps – restored to pre-war pomp.

My favourite tank was devoted to sea fish

found in the English Channel – teeming still

from wartime’s cessation of fishing.

There were skate and flounder,

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CLOSE ENCOUNTERS

Her previous enclosure was surrounded

by a wire mesh fence four metres high

and a low hedge, so she was used to seeing

big people from the knees up and small people

with heads only. Now she paces to and fro,

back and fore, in front of a plate glass

viewing window, as if on sentry-go.

We are a yard apart me and this fellow

being, whose shining bronze eyes slide away

each time they see mine. Every ten turns or so

she stops,

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FOOTSTEPS

One day, after sunrise – in the time before

the ice sheets began to melt – a girl

or a boy, about twelve, carrying

an infant, walked quickly south with long strides,

stopping once to let the infant walk briefly.

At some point a woolly mammoth crossed their tracks,

and a giant sloth paused to sniff the air.

Later the young person walked back north alone.

 

The muddy footprints fossilised – some ten

millennia ago. The big beasts went,

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AND WITH EVERY BREATH

Already what little sunlight there has been

each day of the new year dies a little

later in the west. Today the layers

of pale orange and gold seem to stretch

like a canopy far into the Welsh hills,

over the mountains, and the sea beyond,

as if hope were only a journey away.

 

Meanwhile the numbers of the sick rise

everywhere like a temperature gauge –

and those of us spared thus far, through luck

or circumspection,

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