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'Lion', Babel, circa 583 BC

'Lion', Babel, circa 583 BC


‘Arma virumque cano’ was birched

into pimply boys who ruled their thin red lines

at every degree. Till the sun set

on heart-shaped continents, DCs in the bush

carried Caesar in their khaki shorts. Gaul or

Matabele, order was where empire

prevailed. Rule of law is a state of mind.

Ovid exiled himself. Virgil wrote

two lines a day in his villa near Naples.

On unmapped plains,



For Evelyn, b.13.1.10


Born to good music by strong women,

Ella’s ‘isle of joy’, Nina’s ‘it’s a new dawn’ –

how you nestle in your parents’ untrammelled

love, how you suck with unrelenting hunger!


Born into a world of rubble, with children

buried alive, a world of chicanery

and hatreds – you have entered a difficult,

place, little Evie, somewhere remarkable,

full of tears and amazing kindnesses!





Once, when she was very small, a dream woke me.

Dawn, iron cages, a tiger and the eager,

little zoo keeper reaching out to pat it…

She slept soundly, her menagerie too:

balding princess, purblind bear, Mummy –

though not Daddy now nor, in the garden, Fido.

Oozing kapok, hair eroded by

loving, his one eye tarnished but keen like

small expectations, he kept faith by the swing.

Love’s unreason maintained such shabbiness –

and left him out all night.



Chirk Castle from the North, Peter Tillemans, 1725

Chirk Castle from the North, Peter Tillemans, 1725

As we walk up the steep driveway, stopping

for breath at the curve where the castle

comes into sight – raised to block the routes

through the Dee Valley and Glyn Ceiriog

to starve the Welsh – a beribboned Rolls

descends, bride waving, followed, on foot,

by the wedding party in straggles –

black suits and brown shoes, wispy wedding hats –

treading the incline with tipsy effort.



Majdanek 1945 Polish civilians and Russian soldiers

Majdanek 1945 Polish civilians and Russian soldiers

During the interval, after act three

of Glinka’s opera, ‘Ivan Susannin’ –

pre-revolution, ‘A Life for the Tzar’ –

Stalin would leave his box at the Bolshoi.

In the fourth act, Ivan, the peasant, lures

the Polish Army out of Smolensk

and into a profound, winter forest.

They are lost. In the last act, they kill him.

Deep in the Katyn woods near Smolensk, pines

darkened the clearing where thousands,