Category Archives: History

Newfoundland II

A strange place, this –
and what a lucky find!

The right whale, codfish, seals:
mysterious plenty
at the rim of nothingness,
a mirage found in ice and fog,
free for the taking,

and taken –
by Basques and Bretons,
Welshmen, Irish,
men from Dorset, Devon.
A new found land –

paid for in shipwreck,
frozen limbs,
exile and loneliness,
abandoned homes,
deserted hearts.

A strange place, this.
The sadness of a lucky find.


The Undoing of Flight

On a bleak beach on the far side
of the leaden Atlantic

an ungainly contraption
assembled from canvas and metal struts

hops like a huge scrawny crow,
takes a desperate run

towards lowering clouds,
clumsily lifts off the ground,

plops back onto heavy wet sand,
runs, rises, dips, soars, and flies

a short length of the beach
to thin cheers from tiny black figures.

Against the swell of the decades
I want to swim that ocean

and heave great boulders
into the blind creature’s path.

Let it crash. Let their dream founder.
Maybe then you’d still be with me.


History (i)

I imagine the dry crack,
unremarkable;

no one to observe the fissure,
all but invisible, on the distant face

of the glacier; impossibly slow
the slide of white on white;

the roar of descent, the splash
of the berg unheard –

their echoes yet to be born
at such a latitude, such a longitude:

this is how history is launched:
a frozen chunk of past drifting

blindly, with deadly precision,
into the future.

 

15 April 2012 – centenary of the Titanic sinking


Cutty Sark

From the foggy Clyde
round the Cape of Good Hope
all the way to Shanghai she braved storms
and the advent of the steam age.

Who sentenced her to this?

Raised high and dry,
made fast with iron struts:
the viewing of a perfect corpse
by a procession of nosy landlubbers.

Taunted by seagulls, mocked
by the rising tide… The wind tugs
at her empty rigging. She will not move
for all the tea in China.

Do not go near her. Leave her be.

When all is quiet, she dreams
of sailing with her luckier cousins,
the Marie Celeste, the Flying Dutchman,
the Pequod on their endless voyages.

A wind is in her sails. The iron rusts
and falls away. The dry dock is empty.


Imaginary photo album #2

I was there too.
It was a smooth trip through the night
until the sun rose, even further East.

We spiralled down
from 20,000 feet. At 8:16 we did our bit
for history, and cheered the sun we’d sowed.

You’ll find the names
under a grainy picture: Paul Tibbetts Jr;
Tom and Robert, Wyatt, Dick and all the others

on the crew. Look closer,
and you’ll see faint shadows: men
in lab coats, men in suits, men shaking hands

for front page photographs.
And, in a certain trick of light: distorted
shapes, scorched faces burnt into the fuselage.

I was  there too.
Look at us all together, smiling, back –
back from a smooth trip into night.


Waiting

14/4/1912

piano music drips down the stairwells
sharp splinters of laughter

I imagine the tinkling chandeliers
glowing couples whirling across the floor

and I sit

when the great clock is ready
the jolt is unspectacular

I know these flickering lights and
the stillness before time resumes

and the music strikes up
and the dancing goes on

while I wait

for the hurrying footsteps and
echoing voices past my room

a book slides off a table
the dance speeds up

while I wait

till it bursts through the door
as cold and black as I knew it would be

now the running has stopped
the voices are stilled in great ship’s sigh

and I sit

why should I run
I have always been here


Verdun crossing

Caught like a wasp under the tumbler
of a stifling Verdun summer afternoon,

an ocean of dark trees
decants me to an open place.

A thousand rows of crosses
cross a thousand equal rows.

School parties tumble out of coaches,
ready to be bored by history.

Among the endless lines an old man’s
tacking to and fro in search of names

of men who drowned in mustard gas
crossing a sea of mud and shattered trees.

The wood stretches forever.
This must be fertile soil.