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THE TEARS OF CHRIST

‘He beheld the city, and wept over it.’  Luke 19.41

 

We went up Mount Vesuvius by bus,

and stood on the rim of the crater

watching gases emerge from fissures.

We bought two bottles – a red and a white –

of the local wine, Lachryma Christi,

 for a fellow atheist from the gift shop.

As we walked back down the fertile slopes – the sea

before us, hazy, tranquil – we heard

a cuckoo. All of Campania seemed stilled –

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A RIGHT CHARIVARI!

All seemed particularly dystopian

as I walked out one morning down the high street,

towards MacDonald’s and KFC,

Café Nero, Costa and Starbucks,

boarded-up shops and charity shops,

and two young men selling the Big Issue.

Maybe it was the noise: the traffic’s grind,

an elderly busker’s cacophonous chords,

the fire engine howling – outside the KFC!

I approached the forming crowd, and overheard,

from customers smelling of smoke, rumours:

that one of the Kentucky Colonel’s

deep fat fryers had exploded into flame,

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BANK HOLIDAY

The heavy shower drilled on the frosted glass.

We sheltered under one of the high street’s

open arcades with sloping glazed-roofs  –

a Victorian refinement to the resort:

shopping sheltered from seaside weathers.

We were, by chance, in front of Poundland:

one window displayed Pepsi Max, the other

Cadbury’s Highlights, both cut-price sugar.

The Bank Holiday crowd sheltering with us

seemed disproportionately stricken, impaired,

overwhelmingly loud or utterly

silent, with austerity’s complexion.

 

As the rain began to clear a man,

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BILLY GOATS GRUFF

After dark, down the steep lanes of the Great Orme –

a two mile long limestone promontory,

named by Norsemen for a dragon’s head –

past the synagogue and the funicular,

avoiding the temptations of the Pier,

into the lamp-lit, locked-down thoroughfare,

came the Kashmiri billy goats, white as snow,

as clouds, as sea spume. Runaways or outcasts

from a flock imported for their wool,

occasional mascots for the Royal Welsh,

those noisome foragers with their prophets’ beards

and trophy horns capered to the churchyard

and its privet hedges,

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APOCALYPSE

Via Del Corso, Rome, March 2020.

The boutiques had been closed by decree, even

Calvin Klein Underwear and Brooks Brothers.

The only pedestrians were the Pope,

in his white robes, and his bodyguard,

in bulging suits – on a pilgrimage

to the ancient church of San Marcello

set back from the street. Beneath a crucifix,

used to assuage a 15th century plague,

Pope Francis prayed to God to stop the virus.

 

The street, in Roman times, was Via Lata –

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DANCING ON AIR

We had fed the heart on fantasies,
The heart’s grown brutal from the fare.

Meditations In Time Of Civil War, W.B. Yeats

 

There are barricades at both ends of the street.

They have been building for a couple of days –

a skip, a burned-out pick-up, rotten timber.

Someone appears at our door at dusk or dawn,

claiming to be from one side or the other,

begging, asking, demanding contributions –

that folding chair, this old garden bench,

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SOMEWHERE IN ENGLAND

Under an April moon the tussocky field

abounds in rabbits. Its hedgerows are sprinkled

with blackthorn blossom creamy in moonlight.

Dark green poplars border the canal

beside the field. Daylight exposes,

behind a hedge, discarded technology:

a wheel-less tractor propped up on breeze blocks.

A troika of Russians on a narrow boat

sings plangently of the motherland.

 

Sudden rain sweeps across the poplars.

It turns to hail on the rusted tractor;

silences the song; shreds white petals;

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TO SEE A WORLD

For Pat Rogerson

 

‘To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower…’

AUGURIES OF INNOCENCE, William Blake

 

From sixteen hundred miles away a friend,

on the southern most edge of Iberia,

with the Maghreb below the horizon,

and all of the South Atlantic beyond,

sends me a photograph of low dunes,

a cobalt sky, and flaxen sands that stretch

almost out of sight – and texts me to say

she imagines the poem I might write there.

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UNDER THE PLUM TREE

Under the plum tree, in the sun, an old man,

reads the last paragraphs of ‘Wuthering Heights’.

‘My walk home was lengthened by a diversion

in the direction of the kirk. When beneath

its walls, I perceived decay had made progress,

even in seven months: many a window

showed black gaps deprived of glass; and slates

jutted off here and there, beyond the right line

of the roof, to be gradually worked off

in coming autumn storms.’ From one of the branches

of the tree metal feeders hang with seeds.

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HOME TIME

The ditches along Duttons Lane have been full

much of March – because February-fill-dyke

was mostly dry, almost Spring for days.

The glinting water is dark as black tea,

brown as bitter beer. Along Acres Lane

the hawthorn hedgerows are beginning to green.

 

We park as near the school as we can.

The leafy lane is overflowing with song.

As we walk through the green security gates

a westerly wind brings the roars of lions

from the zoo nearby.

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