1. EVENING SKETCH
Night squats on the grey estate: the river,
the roads turn black. Up a deserted side-street
darkness tears away from a nakedly
lit shop-front: Mini-Cabs For Hire. Inside
a man, slumped on a frayed red settee, snores
before the T.V.’s vertiginous greens.
C & W, here is your soul: in this glimpsed
interior or on the waterfront,
where the hamburger man stares idly
through his caravan’s tight lozenge of light,
as two drunks, leaning into each command,
duel over their mongrel’s affections.
Later, in a bright, packed snug, one will lie
amongst broken glasses, weeping her shame,
as he cast narrow glances round the bar –
blue eyes blazing with fright and challenge.
Someone kicks the blown pod of a mixer
to life, triggers a flock of birds. They rise
from their clenched roosts in a dark fan: splinters,
filings – a taut hawser, suddenly snapped,
disintegrated, sucked beyond a grey
zeppelin of cloud to where riverside
chestnuts shadow the milky amnion
and we appear – we, the giddy ones – corks
on the earth’s black waters. We are learning
slowly about pain: that however deeply
we trawl it, we will bob up again
into this cool, indifferent morning.
Here, to pluck the last overblown roses;
to watch birds fall on the lawn, like ashes.
Rather the sour dampness of her own rooms
that a Home. Rather the sofa’s chaos –
the urinous news, the anti-diet –
than the more orthodox regime.
Here to wait Death, like one of Cavafy’s
Senators, vast camiknickers soaking
up the blasting gas fire. Only a flood
could move her and, when the water do rise,
two policemen arrive. Her neighbours stand
at the edge of the great creeping puddle,
when, in the beam of a torch, she edges
her zimmer forward. Her hand trembles briefly
on her shawl – a gift meant for Christmas –
but her light-trapped face shakes off its tears.
4. NIGHT WALK
In the evening park, swings hang preter-
naturally still: horseshoes of packed ice
catch the pale moonlight. Deep in his enclosure,
the fallow deer tucks his nose into his haunches
till he is perfect form – stone or mask:
though the dark seaweed of his horns crowns him
like an ancient curse. Through black conifers
the creme turret of the local museum
commands the town: its death mask is a prize
amongst the rusting leg-irons. And what
has this chalk edifice to tell – the tin lips,
the fin of the nose – of evil? The moon
sidles from a cloud, looks down on the blank
physiognomy of this night, this park, this town.
5. SUMMER RITUAL
On hot days, the boys left their riverside
campfire beneath the viaduct to swim
and clown about in the centre of town.
Desperate beings! The sun ran down
their knuckled spines; dried the wet scallops
their buttocks left on the wall in lines. soon
a challenge grew: who could walk the white seam
of the weir, cupping water in his hands?
We waved back at countless waxen soles, watched
armless bodies totter and twist, to see
who could seal their sparkling gift and bear it
across the river. In the end, one was dredged
from a feculent pool; his pale face veined
by a lime-green weed, he fingers dripping tears.
6. THE RIVER BY NIGHT
It’s strange to hear that clear bell toll over
the containers’ nocturnal manoeuvres:
it reminds of pensions in foreign towns
with the shutters open wide and, as here,
lights strung out along a river. The water
ruffles like old flesh; each eddy drawing
a meniscus of light: an infinite
tremor of energy. In such domains
I read the capacious remedies of love,
the twisted spools of memory, which burn
but don’t go out. Yet this night river soothes
something deeper still, I can no more name
or touch than foretell where tomorrow’s gulls
will land – or try the hunger of their beaks.