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D-DAY CELEBRATIONS

The TV presenter speaks of ‘sacrifice’.

She is al fresco on a purple sofa

with puce cushions. In the middle ground

are dignitaries, veterans, and a band.

Beyond are the War Graves Commission’s white ranks

of the British dead from Sword and Gold.

 

Only one speaker – beret, blazer, medals,

a RN signaller on a landing craft –

comes close to hinting that no one chose

to be a sacrifice. His speech is short,

even appropriately amusing,

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THE RÜSSELSHEIM MURDERS

I was Gratiano, Bassanio’s pal

in The Merchant of Venice. He ends the play

with an obscene pun. We were an ensemble

of drama teachers performing the piece

in English at Rüsselsheim’s Stadttheater,

the year after the Wall came down – so the pun

was probably lost somewhere in translation.

 

We were a couple of hours from the border.

One of our group became ill. The doctor,

treating her in the hostel where we stayed,

thought at first she was an ‘Ossie’.

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1746

The prisoners were dispersed across the north,

being too numerous for one assize –

many had followers, women and children:

a lost cause’s collateral damage.

 

An unrecorded number – of both rebels

and dependents – was held on the heath

a quarter of a mile due west of here

where I am researching and typing.

 

They wintered among the gorse and the heather.

Maybe there were tents, or perhaps bivouacs,

certainly for the guards.

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APPLES AND PEARS

For Alison and Georgia Robson

 

‘If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.’ Isaac Newton

 

The ancient pear tree next door has not been pruned,

I would guess, for at least seventy years,

long before our time here, or the neighbours’.

It is now as large as a medium-sized oak,

with the remains of a magpie’s nest.

Its fruit, in these last days of summer, glow

a ruddy green; are plentiful,

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DESTINATIONS & DESTINIES

Driving on education business to Crewe,

a quarter of a century ago,

I stopped for petrol on the Nantwich Road,

and there in a rack with Blur, Celine Dion

and Bon Jovi was Fred Astaire, Volume 2.

How my life changed! So many favourites

on one disc! I put the CD in the slot,

drove off the forecourt, and pressed the switch.

‘Heaven, I’m in heaven, And my heart beats

so that I can hardly speak, And I seem

to find the happiness I seek When

we’re out together dancing,

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AUTUMN

When I return with mugs of peppermint tea

you are asleep in the October sunshine –

a fallen golden birch leaf at your feet,

a last wasp buzzing in your shadow.

We have grown old together, ancient

in our ways. But age is a wrinkled

masquerade. ‘Old clothes upon old sticks

to scare a bird,’ as Yeats wrote, at sixty,

a mere stripling. We seem sole survivors

of our youth and prime – so many dead

have fallen by the way.

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