A skyline as idiosyncratic
as Manhattan’s, Chicago’s – its totems
of wealth, faith and dominion – belies
the city’s cruelty: fortunes from famine,
despotism, slavery; licensing
of squalor, bigotry and despair.
In the park where the Orange Lodge drummed out
The Twelfth, a rape was immediate headlines –
white girl, black youths. In Toxteth – its decayed
squares and terraces built on molasses
and cotton, some street signs repainted green,
gold, red, the colours of Rastafari –
‘Two bald men fighting over a comb…’ José Luis Borges
Almost always, winds blew – over heath and sheep.
Seas swelled southward – to ice, minerals.
Mapped, the islands seemed like green spume: a tattered
standard blown west. That bleak solitude
was Arthur Ransome country – The Camp,
Tumbledown Mountain – naive, single minded,
like the Falkland Flightless Steamer duck…
Larger than Greenland, smaller than India,
Argentina did not exist.
Plato’s Allegory of the Cave is
somehow very ‘Thirties: lots of chaps in
the dark behind high walls; much shadow-play
with unidentifiable voices;
belated, blinding suddenness of light.
The decade’s putative worthies (who all,
by the way, seem to have been chaps) go forth
unknowingly in parallel: e.g.
Hitler in Berchtesgarten, Wittgenstein
(Adolf’s erstwhile peer from Linz) in Cambridge.
Did Wittgenstein walk with Blunt, Philby,
For Mark Chapman, PPC
So well is our real government concealed, that if you tell a cabman to drive to ‘Downing Street’ he most likely will never have heard of it…It is only a ‘disguised republic’, which is suited to such a being as the Englishman in such a century as the nineteenth.
THE ENGLISH CONSTITUTION, Walter Bagehot, 1867.
HM’s Garden Parties turn the Bagehot trick,
showing GB as it really, really is:
the Law, the Cloth, clerks,
You are Princess Ayesha, the principal girl,
in the youth group’s pantomime at St Barnabas,
West Street, Crewe. Disguised as a boy, you are searching
for Aladdin – your true, lost love – in the canvas
forest and the bazaar, among the painted caves
and the amphora. Heavily Max Factored, dressed
in torn shirt and ripped shorts – having crossed the desert,
Just beyond the lamp’s beam, where coal and dark
were one, was fire, flood, blast and rockfall.
Shoring bulged, split. Rock jerked through. Earth returned.
Exploited roofs fell, distantly like sighs.
How men loved life to work that labyrinth
crowded with frustrated lives! There were
children in the collapsed seams. There was dust
in ears, nostril, mouth, pores – ubiquitous
as death, death’s colour – and in the palm, a chance
shaving from the crushed forests, the suppressed
centuries, drawing blood.
From Seahouses to
Inner Farne, a bumble bee
escorted our boat.
OFF POINT OF AIR
In a far channel,
a lone boatmen plays the pipes:
‘The Road to the Isles’.
FROM HILBRE ISLAND
A pale summer’s day –
low tide, windless, infinite:
seals bark distantly.
ON YNYS LLANDDWYN
On summer’s last day,
wind flecked wave crests arise, curl,
All day I was accosted by the same
black wino who called me, “Sir”, who had not,
he said, worked for three years, had an illness
(unspecified) and never knew me though
we met outside the Tribune Tower, the
Art Institute, a camera shop on
Wabash, Berghof’s, and then under the El
at State and Jackson! Finally, as I
took my first Wild Turkey of the evening
while I stood at my hotel window, there
he was on the far side of Harrison,
Earthmovers roared, made a whirling progress
six days a week: a four-lane highway
to bypass our provincial town. Gone were
Traveller’s Joy, Heartsease, Love-in-Idleness.
Our wood and its narrow roadway – a lovers’
thoroughfare – severed. Only clay was left
from world’s edge to world’s end: a no-man’s-land,
a dried-up riverbed. One Sunday,
our daughter crossed the silent excavation
and, from the opposite bank, called out:
‘It’s just like the Red Sea!’ And she waved.
We acknowledged the future lovingly.