Saturday, 26 July 2008


August, and once again we find ourselves
Trapped and encircled by these steep-edged hills.
We are dying, as the airless heat fills
The bowl upto the brim. The lime trees heave
A sigh of utter weariness. No one
Moves. The whole town's an elegant middle-
Aged woman suffocated with pillows,
Laid out like death. Drops of perspiration
Ooze into pools at the roots of the hair.
I sit, motionless, hunched in a langour
Of directionlessness as I swelter
In the insoluable, gasping for air.
No voyage planned. No ship, no strong, cool breeze.
No wind-blown sail. No new discoveries.

At the Pawnbrokers

Am I too late,
the lady said,
to buy my old ring back?

Suddenly remembering
perfume, Paris,
perfect June,
his pale face on the pillow lying,
and Roquebrune -

Ah no, it's gone -

and no alas and no alack
can ever bring that old ring back.

At the Cafe San Marco

‘And all the dishes were Lalique --’
Being as usual quite banal --’
‘But both of them, my dear,
Within a week, dead as a dogfish
In the Grand Canal.’

‘Ever the sexual parasite - ’
Imploring, much the worse for beer,
Swearing he’d marry Gladys out of spite --
And now’s he’s gone quite ga-ga,
Poor old dear.’

And in its own lagoon of light
Still glitters like eternity,
Fades in a deep pink sunset every night
And sinks another inch
Into the sea.

At Studley Royal

At Studley Royal

Like the last breath of the long-departed
the faint mist lingers in the distant trees.
The light on the shadowy water seems
to hesitate between surface and depth,
the pools are motionless, silvery-grey,
as smooth-skinned and cold as the complexion
of the dead, the depths like old, sunken eyes,
all forgotten, rotten with history.

My footsteps on the moist grass do not break
the quietness of the still, damp, evening air,
nor waken from its sleep what rests in peace.
The water in its long and narrow ponds
lies in its place with equanimity
or falls neatly in sparkling white cascades.
I study viewpoints and take photographs
of lakes and temples, statues, stately trees.

Reaching the gentle curving Half Moon Pond
I walk slowly (for I have been here before),
waiting for the moment of 'surprise' -
Yes! - in the gloom suddenly I see it -
the shadow of the old grey, ruined tower,
and now the landscape plays its teasing game
as the ruins appear and disappear
amongst the trees along the winding path.

They have gone now, those eightenth century men,
and their consensus of enlightened taste;
gone too are Henry's opportunist thugs
who eagerly dragged roofs and gutters down,
ripping and burning priceless artifacts -
the price of lead the only thing they knew;
and that frail, other-worldly choir of men
yielded to silence, or were paid to go.

And what of that young, solitary man
who took this pathway thirty years ago?
Where now the springing step, the summer glances
as the light fails on this spent, autumn day?
Glancing back, and hesitating between
surface and depth, I tread warily through
my own historic landscape, old memories
weighing on me like a heavy bag.

A holiday in Yorkshire - on my own,
then later, at the Architectural School,
chose Fountains Abbey for some study sheets,
tearing up the guidebook for the pictures.
Few photographs show what I looked like then,
but today I come loaded with cameras,
as if a record of a day might be
some small defence against dissolution.

At Pwllheli

At Pwllheli

One day at last you'll find me,
like an smooth, worn stone,
shaped by the careless, constant sea
and polished by the years.

I shall lie easy then
on the bright, sea shore,
Rounded and even, cold and hard to touch,
one stone amongst the others.
Some days half-hidden by black sea-weed, corks and wood,
rocked by by the restless, raking tide
and glistening in the sun.

But today I'm still sharp-shouldered,
rough edged, angular.
Don't jag your gentle feet on me, you children,
where I lie wincing in the scraping shingle.

Another storm, another grinding tide,
another feature finished, another corner gone.
The waves come roaring in
and set the stones a-dancing;
the foam subsides,
they all go roaring back.

One day at last
you'll find me
like an old, worn stone,
shaped by the sea and the years.

The Assassins

The assassins

There’s always one man who cannot be persuaded,
one man who won’t listen,
who quickly disappears into the crowd,
leaving you slumped and bleeding
on the palace steps.

And so it was, when they sent out six assassins,
men of the worst type,
more like brutes than men.

To the first - a huge hulk of a man
with an evil scar upon his face -
I said, I am a good man,
not a perfect man, I admit, but all things considered,
I’ve done nothing that would deserve
this treatment, and so I argued and pleaded
for an hour or more, until at last he put his gun away
and quietly walked from the room.

And to the second - a mean man
from a distant country - I said,
I have done this, I’ve done that in my life,
let me alone and there are yet more
remarkable things I might do,
why then do I deserve this treatment?
And after a while he too turned on his heel and left.

And to the next I spoke about my family,
my beautiful children,
my white-haired mother, and so on.
To the next I promised favours,
and to the next I said I am a man like you,
with hopes and feelings,
and spoke again in the same manner.

But when the sixth came,
He put his hand upon my arm, and said,
Don’t trouble yourself with speeches.
Reasons, excuses - mere words don’t interest me.
I have a task to do, and I shall do it.
And as I opened my mouth to answer him in a calm, reasonable manner -
he shot me with a single bullet through the heart.

There’s always one man who cannot be persuaded,

All My Vows

A l l m y v o w s

On attending a concert in which was played
J.S.Bach: Sonata for viola da gamba BWV 1028
Beethoven: 7 Variations
on the theme 'Bei Männer, welche Liebe fühlen,
from Mozart's 'The Magic Flute'
& Bruch: Kol Nidrei

Whether the angels play only Bach when they praise God I am not quite sure; I am sure, however, that amongst themselves they play Mozart.
Karl Barth. Quoted in his New York Times obituary.

God smiled with pleasure just the other day
when he looked down on Cheltenham through the trees.
He put prayer into pending to hear them play
Bach, loud and clear across the galaxies.
But then the angels folded their bright wings,
stopped polishing the splendid brass of heaven
and whispered, Mozart! - some variations
interpreted by that wild man Beethoven.
But when they reached the Kol Nidrei, time stopped,
the angels all looked down, and a dark shadow
almost seemed to fall across the glistening
dome of heaven, and God, still listening,
remembered with anguish and with sorrow
Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Treblinka, and he wept.