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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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A COMMONPLACE

The succulent, bright green shoots of early spring;

the blackthorn – on distant hedgerows like

sporadic late frost or, close to, pearls

of scattered barley; the tiny goldcrest

with its mighty voice – see see see, see see see:

presage the summer’s rich beneficence.

 

This is her second spring. She points with wonder

and joy at a sudden breeze that shakes

the cherry tree, disturbs its white petals

against the bluest sky, the brightest sun.

She is walking now –

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AT JODRELL BANK

The radio telescope trundles on rails

in a landscape of dairy cows and ponds,

tuning into the dispersing cosmos.

The universe is replete with sound. We

fill it with meaning and impedimenta.

Star sailors embark on metaphor

and intricate engines. We record

the energy of suns dead longer than

dinosaurs. We listen to stars yet

tolerate hunger – and we stare still

into the black wonder of starry nights.

Like addicts, we exploit experience.

The ether is redolent with humankind,

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A WEDDING

From the spoil heaps of the redundant gold mines,

when the wind blows, the dirt blows always

over Soweto. In a flapping marquee

at the end of a street, the wedding took place.

Aperitif nibbles became gritty,

paper cloths grimy, the cutlery

silhouetted in grit. There were many

speeches – long before guests ate the freshly

slaughtered lamb and even longer before

the singing and dancing. The hired canvas drummed

with hope, humour, courage, enterprise, joy.

 

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WHICH PASSETH UNDERSTANDING

With wind soughing in the churchyard yews,

lichen marking the gravestones of labourer

and landowner, Saxon foundations,

mediaeval tower, sunlight fitful

through worthy Victorian stained glass,

a brass plaque for ‘those who gave their lives’,

the wheezy organ, the orotund Order

for the Burial of the Dead, ‘I am the

resurrection and the life…’ the vicar’s

gentle eulogy of the deceased,

one is almost tempted to wish God

were in his heaven where ‘we shall all

be changed…in the twinkling of an eye’

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SOMETHING OF SUMMER

While, at the last outpost of its empire,

a blackbird sounds reveille and, next door,

red admirals repose in buddleia,

something of summer, caught in the early air

and gathered, a lightness, perfumed, bold,

is touching narrow, walled-in gardens

where, high over houses epochs old,

wood pigeons flute in maples and a thrush,

lost in the snows of a pear tree, cuts notes

like glass. Neglected blossom lights

along the chipped and blackened bricks, a rush

of scent from satiny blooms,

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