At twilight from the hills across the Straits, a sudden
drift of smoke – then a fire’s deep orange eye blinked.
We talked of cruising the Nile; of moon rise and sun set,
of the narrow compass of the earth’s curve;
the river pilots’ open armed, hand-on-heart salaams;
and the stars rushing through the night.
Later and sleepless in the early hours,
I kept watch at the bedroom window.
The hotel sign lit a faded Union flag,
threadbare at its outer edges.
Citizens falter in the purposeful street.
Above the fumes of money, confusion,
from the leaden gaps of sky comes a murmuring,
a sigh like breathing, pulsing of blood.
Swans are flying on unhurried wing beats,
necks as prows towards horizons. Glinting
like new coins, pedestrians’ faces
turn skyward… The city smells of warm stone.
Sun illuminates the prison’s granite.
Thrust through the bars of a cell window
are a pair of hands, palms upward. Whatever
they have done,
Year of austerity’s end when Atlee
and the dying King launched the festive concrete
of the second half of the twentieth
century. That spring, at Uncle George’s
hotel, we had chicken. Labour defeats
tumbled from the wireless in the chintzy
lounge. I read Five Go Off On Holiday
and Biggles In The Orient. I heard
a family playing tennis, laughter
and plimsolls, stared at a girl sunbathing
by the empty pool. I was Julian
taking command, Biggles shooting up Japs,
For all the pretty curtains and the tasteful prints
and the carers’ determined bonhomie,
this is the house of the mad and my mother
a permanent resident.
Sane, she was aggressive. She is docile now.
She was unsociable, sane. Now she smarms –
at folk she’d once have considered common.
She thinks I am dead or my long dead father.
You’re a nurse or her daughter. Alzheimer’s
is the ultimate in wish fulfilment.
The deranged have no beauty or dignity,