On Washington Crossing the Delaware

Not today, though,
in the Metropolitan Museum of Art,
not today he isn’t.

The entrance to the room
is barricaded with plywood permitting
only a partial glimpse

of the General: upstanding, unfazed
by the turbulent ice floes,
unwavering gaze fixed on, well,

plywood. The impeccable turnout,
in democratically dun-coloured mantle
(lined with scarlet),

thrown in dramatic folds
over shoulders bearing the weight
of a nascent nation –

all for nothing today. He shall not
reach the far shore, shall not
trounce the Hessian mercenaries;

and this great nation shall never,
now, be birthed – and not
just this room, no, the entire museum,

Fifth Avenue, all of Manhattan
declared closed
for the duration; New York roped off,

the Empire State Building un-built,
stone by stone, steel girders
dismantled, the Brooklyn Bridge

melted down and Brooklyn cut loose
to drift out to sea.
By and by the prairie schooners

will return from the West (California
now only a word
whispered in feverish dreams

and no more), and from a non-place
not called Washington,
in a porticoed, pillared white house

that never was, a last tweet proclaims
the fading usurper’s futile fury –
then silence. Peace.

Washington Crossing the Delaware


Ellis Island

Sofia, age 23, from Siberia:
processed in Ellis Island, 1921;
destination Gackle, North Dakota.

You have to wonder.

Gackle, North Dakota:
founded in 1904;
located at 46°37′38″N, 99°8′36″W:

not even the middle of nowhere.

Population (1920): 424.
Population (1950): 606.
Population (2016): 291:

not exactly Boomtown ND.

Things to do in Gackle ND:
ˮGackle is home
to the Gackle Public Libraryˮ –

that is about the extent of it.

They must be doing
an awful lot of reading
up there in Gackle, ND.

And you have to wonder:

Did she find her home there?
Was it worth the loss of loved ones,
the heartbreak of exile, the long journey

all the way from Siberia – to Gackle, ND.


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


Too steep

I had no say in this matter.
At no point was there any consultation.

I was not properly briefed,
nor were the risks pointed out to me.

No mention was made of responsibilities,
commitments, complications,

and no, I did not sign
on any kind of dotted line.

I was not given an itinerary,
and I never saw a bill of fare –

and if I had, I have a pretty good notion
it would’ve been the kind without prices.

And now, out of the blue, you have the gall
to ask me to pay for the trip?

I’ll admit: it had its moments,
and I’m not saying all of it was not worth it –

but I draw the line at coughing up
for a stone and inscription, too.