Walking on Thin Air

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.)


John Brown in the Met

The Old Testament beard blows
in the gale of a mighty shout;
the hair on his head raised
by the sheer force of fury; eyes
rolling under the promontory
of a frowning brow; brawny arms
outstretched in righteousness
burst the confines of the canvas –

This John Brown is anything but
a-mouldering in the grave.

This giant is girded with pistol
and sword; this prophet’s rage
raises tornados; this patriarch
dwarfs all who come near –
the settler unaware of the storm
bearing down on his wagon;
the cowering negro looking up
to the saviour that towers above him.

John Brown in the Met

This John Brown is a soldier
in the Army of the Lord indeed,

and that his soul goes marching on,
of this the artist allows no doubt.
But that is not the question.
The question is whether
the voice of the black man
for whom this storm was raised
can be heard over the giant’s shouting –
if he can ever make himself understood

over the endless deafening chorus of
Glory, glory, hallelujah, Glory, glory hallelujah …

 


Wheelchair access

Heavy going
and he’s
in a hurry
as you can see:

powerful shoulders
pumping,
upper body
straining forward –

but the entrance
(tough luck)
is always
on the opposite side.

Wheelchair access

 


New York Scenes

New York Scenes


Party

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.


Salisbury Cathedral

459288

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.

 


A lesson from the DSLR workshop

Set up the tripod
set a long exposure
catch silhouettes
of ancient hills
stone cottages
bare trees

the moon’s trajectory

and if a farmer crossed
his yard
a cyclist passed
before the lens
they’re gone
as if they’d never been

Exposed to time man disappears