Emerging from the Tube you clothe me
with dusty breath and ambient noise
I feel you living restlessly
lifeforce surging through centuries
pulsing through busy streets
I turn a corner and a garden churchyard
filled with lunchers and tourists
leads me to rest
Leaving you in a plane I reach down
pet your raised questioning head
sooth and smooth your black silky fur
I have run from you as you’ve
preyed upon my soul my heart
your begging eyes always
bring my return
Over twenty years after the end
gardens still had hollow mounds
or curved corrugated tin domes half buried
some doing duty as tool sheds
many simply as they were
when the bombing stopped
full of the detritus of nights spent sheltering
while death flew overhead
Mounds and tunnels riddled
our playing fields
dry brick-lined hiding places
against bombers seeking factories
and factory workers
to blast and wreck
we used them for massive games of hide and seek
London streets had gaps, play spaces
festooned with stately spires of
purple flowers, amid mossy rubble
the occasional crumpled saucepan
so much broken crockery
As a child, our father collected bullets and bomb shards
watched fighters fall crashing out of the sky
and ran to collect souvenirs while the metal was still hot
I and my brothers knew wars last remnants
and played amongst ghosts
TWENTY bridges from Tower to Kew –
Wanted to know what the River knew,
Twenty Bridges or twenty-two,
For they were young, and the Thames was old
And this is the tale that River told:-
“I walk my beat before London Town,
Five hours up and seven down.
Up I go till I end my run
At Tide-end-town, which is Teddington.
Down I come with the mud in my hands
And plaster it over the Maplin Sands.
But I’d have you know that these waters of mine
Were once a branch of the River Rhine,
When hundreds of miles to the East I went
And England was joined to the Continent.
“I remember the bat-winged lizard-birds,
The Age of Ice and the mammoth herds,
And the giant tigers that stalked them down
Through Regent’s Park into Camden Town.
And I remember like yesterday
The earliest Cockney who came my way,
When he pushed through the forest that lined the Strand,
With paint on his face and a club in his hand.
He was death to feather and fin and fur.
He trapped my beavers at Westminster.
He netted my salmon, he hunted my deer,
He killed my heron off Lambeth Pier.
He fought his neighbour with axes and swords,
Flint or bronze, at my upper fords,
While down at Greenwich, for slaves and tin,
The tall Phoenician ships stole in,
And North Sea war-boats, painted and gay,
Flashed like dragon-flies, Erith way;
And Norseman and Negro and Gaul and Greek
Drank with the Britons in Barking Creek,
And life was gay, and the world was new,
And I was a mile across at Kew!
But the Roman came with a heavy hand,
And bridged and roaded and ruled the land,
And the Roman left and the Danes blew in –
And that’s where your history-books begin!”
He stands, legs nonchalantly hooked
around the central pole,
clean pressed stovepipe jeans, battered Leather,
coloured spiky hair, life creased face,
lively eyes roving across fellow travellers.
We nod recognition, two observers on the night tube.
A tall Rasta joins at the next stop
dreadlocks tumbling from pirate scarf
drinking from a bottle swathed in paper
impervious to all.
Around us, Chinese teenagers sweet with Peter Pan charm
sated concert goers, weary tourists, glossy City traders.
These two self contained gentlemen rise above
embody the blunt London of my childhood.
Punk and Rasta.
They looked and turned away
Londoners afraid to interact
With the girl sitting, weeping
On a stinkingly hot day in the city
Exclaiming that she had gone blind
Oversized suitcase abandoned near her feet
Someone pushed a cold drink into my hand
A woman’s voice comforted me
A stranger joined me on the step, asked where I was going
Told me that a long hot walk carrying a load
Had affected my sight
Sat until, miraculously, my sight returned
Pulling myself to my feet
I retrieved the offending suitcase
Slowly made my way to the Tube station
Continued my journey, moving from London to Oxford
Changing university, leaving friends and home city
Aiming for a Doctorate, I should have noted the omen
For I found loneliness and heartache