You will never be standing
on that impossibly thin line
four hundred metres
above the ground
between the two towers –
oh but you will:
all of us will, or were,
or are (even now),
only we did not realise then,
or have forgotten,
or choose to close our eyes
to the immensity of the drop.
(On 8/7/1974, Philippe Petit walked the tightrope betweeen the twin towers of the World Trade Center.)
You wake up in a leafy street at dusk – it might
be Cambridge, Massachusetts: wide sidewalks,
separated from the street by strips of lawn;
white porches, pastel clapboard mansions
with wooden pillars propping up solid suburbia.
A yellow house pours honey-coloured light
from every window. On a gentle tide of voices,
music, laughter, clinking glasses you wash up
against the Doric columns of the open entrance
and are swept inside. Past the grand staircase
with its sweeping banisters you drift through
rooms with crimson sofas, Tiffany lamps, tight
crowds of people lost in conversation, out
on a balcony where girls in flapper dresses
smoke black Sobranies, and in the library
men drinking rye talk baseball scores.
Notes floating from a grand piano draw you
to a ballroom where a boy in white tuxedo
and a girl in red glide dreamily across the floor,
oblivious to your silent passing. Lured by
a hallway’s chequer board of black and white
you sink into the dark recesses of the house.
The happy din of voices dies away; the grand
piano tinkles to a stop; the muffled sound
of car doors slamming, then the hectic play
of headlights on the walls; and you remain,
a shadow drifting noiselessly from room
to room, turning the lights out one by one.
Some people say an ancient race landed
a spaceship here a thousand years ago.
They sent out scouts; explored the land;
settled, and tilled the soil. Then famine came,
and war. All memory ends here.
The travellers are gone; their ship, forgotten.
Until tonight. Tonight I walk the length
of the great hull. Anchored by buttresses,
pinned down by rusty scaffolding, it lies
a prisoner under an alien sky, the spire
straining to make contact with the stars.
A late car passes in the rain. Lights flicker
on the walls. I hear the swish of tyres
on wet tarmac; the hum of mighty engines
waking up. The ship is stirring. Timber
creaks; a finial falls, a flying buttress
scatters Purbeck stone, the sheer sides
soar up, vanish into space –
I shut my eyes – and it is nothing –
just a tale – as insubstantial as the wind
that shakes the chestnut trees and chases
leaves across the black, deserted Close.
In the small hours
I listen to the busy
comings and goings
the paper thin facade
under a grey Cotswold sky:
summing up faded lives;
and the roofs
beyond the graveyard:
under a grey Cotswold sky.