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DOWN THE LINE

For Kira Somach

 

I have regular readers – some I have known

for years, others I will never meet –

on every continent except

Antarctica: a wonder not a boast!

One, an actual friend from long ago,

tells me, via email, that she often reads

some of my poems over the phone

to her father – she in Missouri,

he in Florida: to remind them

of his years working in England,

and her years here becoming a woman.

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THE LION OF KNIDOS

Near one corner of the British Museum’s

Great Court – the largest, roofed, public square

in Europe – the Lion reclines on a plinth.

It was stolen, a couple of years

after the Crimean War, from a ruined

tomb in Turkey. Its limestone body

had once been adorned with marble, its empty

eye sockets with glass to glint in sunlight

and glow in moonlight. Whether because

its pockmarked flanks seem sad or its eyeless face

appears benign visitors are keen to pose

for photos with the beast as backdrop.

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CONVALESCENCE

We drove towards the River Dee – down walled lanes

with rhododendrons festooning the sandstone,

their attic blooms in imperial colours –

to visit a doughty friend convalescing,

from two knee replacements, in Seize The Day,

a recently opened upmarket care home.

 

As we turned into the drive, I realised

that this, long before rebuilding, was where

my mother had first trained to be a nurse –

sixteen, with her friend, Belle. They cared for children

with TB from the Liverpool slums.

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ASYLUM SEEKER

i.m. Samuel Selzer

 

He was never sure if it had been a joke

when the police arrested him for being,

he learned later, Jack the Ripper,

even though the last murder had been

a dozen years before, and he himself

had been eight and far away – or just

a lesson for yet another alien

wandering Whitechapel as if he had

a right to be lost in a pea souper.

 

Fresh from the Hamburg boat docked at Tilbury,

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THE BRIDGE

Where the Menai Straits are at their narrowest,

between two bluffs, Thomas Telford chose to build

his one span suspension bridge, high enough

for tall ships to pass. The two towers,

exposed to the tides, were built of limestone blocks

from the Penmon quarries on the coast

north of here. Caernavon Castle had been built

from Penmon stone – and blocks were shipped to Dublin

to line the Liffey with wharfs and quays.

 

Telford, the ‘Colossus of Roads’, was reared

in penury –

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AN AFTERNOON IN MAY

By our side gate the old laburnum – whose wood,

in time, may make a chanter or a flute –

is in bloom. I look up through its branches.

There is a little azure and smidgens

of green – and droplets, ringlets, links, chains

of cascading yellow, a torrent of gold.

 

***

 

Our Edwardian neighbourhood fills

with the machined roar of twin turbofans.

An Airbus Beluga – more Arctic whale

than Caspian sturgeon –

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THE MUSEUMS

For Sizwe Vilakazi

 

ROBBEN ISLAND, CAPE TOWN

 

Except when the Atlantic fog surprises,

from high ground in the city the island

is present like a leviathan,

its lights at night like white phosphorous,

a place of banishment since the first ships,

among seals and penguins.

 

DISTRICT SIX, CAPE TOWN

 

Razing its streets, clearing this cosmopolis

of Asians, atheists,

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HIGHWATER

The incoming tide brings shoals of mackerel fry.

Herring gulls, perhaps a hundred, more,

young among them in their mottled plumage,

are yelling at the water’s edge, feeding

in frenzy as the small waves scatter.

Far out on the low, narrow, wooden jetty

my small family leans over to marvel

at the fishes before landfall. At my back

is the white crescent of hotels, the town,

the estuary, the mountains, sun setting.

 

They cross the beach, granddaughter running ahead,

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‘MARILYN MONROE READING ULYSSES’: EVE ARNOLD (1955)

After the shoot on Long Island’s Cedar Beach

they drove next to a local playground.

While Eve loaded her camera, Marilyn sat

on some play equipment and read a book –

her worn copy of James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’,

which she kept in her car, and had been reading

for some time, often aloud to get it’s sense.

(She looks to be about nine tenths through

so into Molly Bloom’s unpunctuated

soliloquy of love and longing).

This photograph of a pretty woman

in her late twenties,

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UNDER THE LIME TREES

For Mike Rogerson

 

The layout of our local park was finished

the year my mother was born, the year

before the Great War was started, and named

for Alexandra Saxe-coburg and Gotha

née Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg,

widow of the late King. An avenue

of lime trees – and a single row along

another path – was planted. My mother,

the Spring of the year she was war-widowed,

pushed me in my pram beneath them.

 

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