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GERTRUDE BELL AND THE TREATY OF SÈVRES

Paris, 1920

 

The treaty was signed in the Exhibition Room,

overseen by Marie Antoinette’s

dinner service. Like porcelain owls’ eyes,

they were witnesses of the delegates’ harsh

geometry, the fretwork jigsaw of desk

wallahs – Ottoman Mesopotamia

become modern Syria and Iraq.

 

Gertrude Bell was one of the delegates:

daughter of a philanthropic iron master;

Oxford graduate like T.E. Lawrence;

cartographer, mountaineer, linguist;

archaeologist, administrator,

public servant;

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OF PLUMS AND FIGS

Dreamily among the leaves, uneasily,

in my age, up a shining ladder

I am plucking plums – discarding those

rotten, prune-like encrusted with sugar,

or pecked at by passing tits and dunnocks.

I pass the whole, ripe ones down carefully

to my granddaughter, who holds her bowl

high as she can. You look on, pleased for us both

and concerned. Later you will place the blushed plums

in a wide shallow dish of the deepest red

adorned with foliage –

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A TOKEN OF A COVENANT: MARCH 16TH 2018

And suddenly there, through the high sash window,

is a rainbow – lit by the westward sun –

from behind the church and over the park’s

leafless, lichened trees to the gated, faith school.

 

This is the season of illusion and sleight

of hand; the season of the braying bluster

of blinkered donkeys spooked by mayhem

in a cathedral city; the season

of the wet slap of the laundering of money

on the banks of the gun metal Thames;

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THE JIG’S UP

The simple memorial of slate and part

of a propeller was relocated

from the mountainous North Stack, where the plane crashed,

a mile to sea level in the Holyhead

Breakwater Country Park. The US

B24 Liberator bomber

was based at Valley ten miles away.

 

Returning from a radar jamming raid

over Northern France in very bad weather

the B24 overflew and, making

a re-approaching circuit, ran out of fuel.

Believing the aircraft was over land

the pilot ordered the eight non-commissioned

crew members to bail out.

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KITCHENER’S ISLAND

Our felucca tacked across the river Nile

to Aswan from Kitchener’s Island –

with its well watered botanical gardens

and its straight boulevards of tall palm trees –

gifted to Lord Kitchener of Khartoum,

pre Great War, as Egypt’s Consul-General.

 

As we approached the east bank, out of nowhere

it seemed, a boy appeared along side us

in a small zinc bath paddling with his hands

and singing, “‘Michael, row the boat ashore!

Hallelujah!’” – the old slave song learned then turned,

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NOW WE ARE SEVENTY FIVE

In more civilised days we might have appeared

on Wilfred Pickles’ radio show

‘Have A Go!’ and when he asked our age

and we told him he would say, ‘Seventy five,

ladies and gentlemen!’ and they would applaud,

and, before he asked ‘What’s on the table, Mable?’

and instructed ‘Give them the money, Barney!’,

he would ask how long we had been married –

more applause – and then he would ask us,

in his warm, BBC Yorkshire voice,

for the secret of our years of wedded bliss.

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