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SHAZAM!

Hereward The Wake – Last of the English!

 

The Lone Ranger gallops through the suburbs,

his sidekick on the smaller horse. Legends

gather, like tumbleweed – Beowulf, Robin Hood.

He’s making for the badlands of the best

hotel, where blue-chinned ones with foreign names,

amidst the liquor and the girls, conspire…

 

Elsewhere, no one is wholly innocent

but in rhetorical worlds – Question Time

in the House, the lounge of the Albion,

the Synod –

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LAMENT FOR BERSHAM IRON WORKS

Not for the hard, life-denying graft of it

or the danger, not for the polluting smoke

or the banishing of bird song,

not for the exploitation and social

upheaval, least of all for its cannons

at Naseby, Bunker Hill, Waterloo,

but for its madness, the sheer reach of it,

the invention of it, the ambition,

the defiance, the rhythmical creak

of the horse-drawn gin pumping water

from the river, the sulphurous roars

of the furnace, the forge hammers pounding

through the ancient woods,

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CARLTON CENTRE, JOHANNESBURG – APRIL 2009

As the city’s original centre is reclaimed

from anarchy by its citizens of colour,

this skyscraper – the tallest building in Africa –

built in the Apartheid era, in white Joburg,

begins to be used again: its shopping centre

and car parks thrive with consumerism,

and its fiftieth floor is a haven for lovers –

and a belvedere for occasional tourists.

 

We can see the township taxis jam the streets below,

washing lines on the roofs of re-occupied buildings,

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BOLOGNA LA GRASSA

A roma woman, cradling a child, sits

cross-legged in a tie-and-dye dress and begs

from fur-coated women strolling beneath

the portico of the Pavaglione.

Enamelled photos of resistance fighters

are displayed on the side of the Town Hall.

Where the bomb blasted the station wall,

the crack has been crystallised in plate glass.

 

Nicolò Dell’Arca’s terracotta

pietà, its smug patron as Joseph

of Aramathea, with a concerned

angel as onlooker, portrays four women,

mothers petrified in distress,

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OF GOLDEN DAYS

On this auspicious date in July:

Richard the Lionheart was crowned; Thomas Cook

ran his first railway excursion, Leicester

to Peterborough and back; Thomas More

was beheaded; Horlicks went on sale; Newton

published his ‘Principia’; John Lennon

met Paul McCartney; Pasteur cured rabies;

the first full length talkie was premiered…

 

From that date in ‘61 – a blind date

(you with the black spot  to avenge a friend

and, after, changing your mind and your heart,

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LARKIN REVISITED

For Harry Chambers

 

After the posthumous exhibition

at the library, I walked with my daughter

(a student at Hull and sure she’d seen him once

in the lift) down Newland Avenue

to Pearson Park. I pointed out the house

where Larkin’s flat had been and told her how,

more than twenty years before, a  friend

and I had been persons from Porlock.

He’d answered the door in a dressing gown,

vest, grey flannels and, ruefully,

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THE SURPRISER

Flying to Athens and intensive care,

the injured Cretan motor cyclist died

some time in the night over Melos.

Shrieking her grief, his mother ran in the aisle.

A stewardess tried to calm, restrain her.

The boy’s bare, pale feet were protruding

from an orange blanket. The makeshift cortège

bore us faster than he had ever dreamed.

 

In couch grass, on Chester’s Meadows, a hedgehog

was embarrassed by death the surpriser.

A trickle of blood betrayed it –

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ONCE UPON A TIME IN AN AVIARY

Under a steel net – sponsored by a multi-

national – in a disused limestone quarry

were all of South Africa’s birds, except

the predators.

 

The black warden softly extolled the aviary’s

human values: calm, peace, gentleness.

How well he knew each of the inhabitants:

who delved, wove, fluttered, chattered, nested,

hatched, fed – and defended abundantly.

 

At home, damp autumn turned to cold winter,

birds pecked at the ice on the stilled fountain

and the coalition of the willing

prepared for war.

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MARJORIE BEEBE’S BOTTOM

For Ian Craine

 

‘Marjorie Beebe is the greatest comic possibility that ever worked in my studio. I think she is destined to become the finest comedienne the screen has ever seen.’  Mack Sennett

 

Marjorie Beebe in 'The Farmer's Daughter' 1928

 

Her bottom was a serious matter:

the butt, as it were, of numerous pratfalls

in many Mack Sennett two reelers – like

The Chumps, Campus Crushes and The Cowcatcher’s

Daughter

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