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SAPPHIRE

We came here first maybe fifty years ago –

Porth Trecastell aka Cable Bay

(on Ynys Môn aka Anglesey) –

a small Iron Age hill fort on one headland,

a Neolithic grave on the other,

and a telephone cable to Ireland

in between. This bank holiday the bay

is busy – paddlers, bathers, canoeists.

 

In the gated burial chamber –

Barclodiad y Gawres, which translates,

‘the full apron of the giantess’ –

its prehistoric graffiti secured

against vandals,

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PRIMATES

The Cape Point funicular stops. A baboon

is squatting on the track, suckling its young.

Cameras click. We wait. Mother and child lope off

into the fynbos and the proteas.

We trundle down to the visitors’ centre.

 

On a path by the electrified fence

beneath the restaurant terrace, a baboon stalks.

Much further below and beyond is False Bay.

A distant whale breaches, and another –

then a destroyer passes, sailing

from Simons Town for the Southern Ocean.

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ON FIRST READING ‘THE GULAG ARCHIPELAGO’

It was time to revise our atlases.

Europe was a river of broken ice,

Russia a mouth widening to a

frozen sea. GULAG was permanent winter.

Innocent, we had traced railways to

romantic ends. The atlas of knowledge showed

obscured crimes, its charts the colours and scale

of blizzards. A new world had been shaping.

Multitudes were shunted across nations.

A chronicle of whispers is the pure

saga, epic of the supreme fiction,

where history is lost, where ten million

lives are broken like glass.

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A POET IN WARTIME

Nuns clambered on the headland. Like scarabs,

they traversed the sage slope of limestone

to the hermit’s shrine. Marine creatures, landlocked,

awaited the sea’s coming. The poet

descended by funicular to the bay’s

elegant crescent of hotels. Mists

trailed the foothills of distant peaks. In saloons

of bevelled mirrors, his comrades sang

marching songs. A love poem formed like breath.

 

He crunched on innumerable pebbles.

Waves gasped and sighed, smoothing the wooden groynes.

Two aircraft,

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ANTIQUITY

Ancient Greeks preferred it to chronicles

for poetry is the art of maybe,

the alchemy which turns fact into song.

 

‘Antiochus honours the saviours of men,

the immortals, Asclepius of

the gentle hands, Hygeia, Panakeia.’

On the margins of barbarity

and wilderness,  a Greek army doctor

commissioned a recondite altar – found

some seventeen hundred years later

when Chester’s Market Hall, its pediment

topped with cornucopia, was flattened.

 

Centuries before the Twentieth

was stationed here,

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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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