Her last courtier,
a bright male chaffinch from a neighbouring tree,
bids adieu to her with song,
quits her young crowned head
then launches itself down the line of her gaze
across the morning park,
towards the café and toilets.

Were it now to land upon Albert,
who stands aloft at some small distance,
one hand in the breast of his frock coat,
one leg purposefully advanced
and slightly flexed at the knee,
we might believe this blithe spirit drawn
by tractor beams contrived of princely desire,
or following lambent atomic flight paths
seen only by birds, projected by cold marble eyes.

But it doesn’t. They do not even face each other.
The Consort has his back towards the Queen,
and she in turn is seated upfield of him,
compelled to watch what she does not care to observe.
They have been like this for one hundred and forty years,
and no one round here is quite sure that they understand why.

Not that our claim upon the fantastic
should in any way be lessened by the fact
of civic ornament thus churlishly disposed.
The chaffinch flies and sings, flies and sings
at will through the rippling air,
and if, as we hereabouts choose to maintain,
our statues have been invested with the right
to leave their plinths on the stroke of midnight,
and house souls again for the durance of the chimes,
then…ah, what then? Surely there will be time, just once,
for them to find each other, for fingertips to touch,
for moonlight on dew-spangled grass
to reflect itself in her eyes, for softly murmured words?
‘Albert, my dear. It has been so very long.’
‘Liebchen, these spacious gardens of the dark
are graced by your white beauty, and by day the songbird
trills homage around your throne.’

 

 

 

 

 

Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.

 

 

 

 

 

No wonder
The river Humber
Lies in a silken slumber.

For it is dawn
And over the newly warm
Earth the mists turn,

Wrapping their gentle fringes
Upon the river where it hinges
Upon the perfect sleep of perfected images.

Quiet in the thought of its felicity,
A graven monument of sufficiency
Beautiful in every line the river sleeps complacently.

And hardly the dawn distinguishes
Where a miasma languishes
Upon the waters’ farther reaches.

Lapped in the sleeping consciousness
Of its waves’ happiness
Upon the mudbanks of its approaches,

The river Humber
Turns again to deeper slumber,
Deeper than deeps in joys without number.

 

 

 

 

 

Sholto Peach Harrison you are no son of mine
And do you think I bred you up to cross the River Tyne
And do you think I bred you up (and mother says the same)
And do you think I bred you up to live a life of shame
To live a life of shame my boy as you are thinking to
Down south in Kingston-upon-Hull a traveller in glue?

Come back my bonny boy nor break your father’s heart
Come back and marry Lady Susan Smart
She has a mint in Anglo-Persian oil
And Sholto never more need think of toil.

You are an old and evil man my father
I tell you frankly Sholto had much rather
Travel in glue unrecompensed unwed
Than go to church with oily Sue and afterwards to bed.

 

 

 

 

 

I never noticed
for twenty odd years
that we lived in a city
with the same name
as the framework of a boat,
a city imbued with tidal
and sky rhythms.

We watched two rivers
play chameleon
with Davy’s Gray,
Sepia, Burnt Umber,
Neutral Tint, Cerulean
and Yellow Ochre,
all those overlapping
water-colour names
I can’t resist.

 

 

 

River-doors are not sea-doors. They open
Through mirrors and library shelves,
Through glasshouse sweat and damp attic walls.

They are the isomers of boredom.
Fleeing through a river-door the adult world’s critique
You will hear the foul yawn of low tide caught

Au naturel in its khaki-tripe skin
Between the dented ironclad revetments
Of Drypool and Scott Street:

Barges, drowned dogs, drowned tramps, all are
Subdued to its element, worked
Into the khaki, with ropes and old staithes,

Estuarine polyps and leathery excresences
No one has thought of a name for.
So much for childhood. Later you sit

From the long afternoon to the full moon’s evening,
Blowing your dole on the landlord’s voice:
At high tide, he says, in that intimate gurgling tone,

The river revisits his cellar,
Caressing the chains of the exciseman’s ghost
Where he swings between this world and water’s; but no,

It is never convenient to go down and see for yourself
How the river might stand at the foot of the steps.
The problem’s the safety. The wife. It’s the council

He says, giving off the warm odour of bullshit.
However, you seem to be drinking the river in mild
And be eating its fruits from the pickled-egg jar

And as the product of refreshment hear
The river-door quietly open downstairs
Under the weight of the waters.

 

 

 

 

The gulls of Hull
the train pulling out –
a metallic snake
along the estuary
leaving behind
the forceful ghost
of Wilberforce
the confluence
of the Hull and the Humber.
Brough, Selby, Doncaster.
How many times
have I sat this way
England, gazing out
at the leafless names
of trees; at cathedrals
I still haven’t seen –
Our inter-city boa
Pushing through
the deepening night –
the wet black roots
of the country.
Suddenly, for some
unearthly reason,
it falters, then stops –
an inexplicable
paralysis of rhythm –
the brooch of a small
town gleaming
in the distance –
the eels and eels
of branching tracks.

O England –
hedge-bound as Larkin
omnivorous as Shakespeare.

Swerving east, from rich industrial shadows
And traffic all night north; swerving through fields
Too thin and thistled to be called meadows,
And now and then a harsh-named halt, that shields
Workmen at dawn; swerving to solitude
Of skies and scarecrows, haystacks, hares and pheasants,
And the widening river’s slow presence,
The piled gold clouds, the shining gull-marked mud,

Gathers to the surprise of a large town:
Here domes and statues, spires and cranes cluster
Beside grain-scattered streets, barge-crowded water,
And residents from raw estates, brought down
The dead straight miles by stealing flat-faced trolleys,
Push through plate-glass swing doors to their desires –
Cheap suits, red kitchen-ware, sharp shoes, iced lollies,
Electric mixers, toasters, washers, driers –

A cut-price crowd, urban yet simple, dwelling
Where only salesmen and relations come
Within a terminate and fishy-smelling
Pastoral of ships up streets, the slave museum,
Tattoo-shops, consulates, grim head-scarved wives;
And out beyond its mortgaged half-built edges
Fast-shadowed wheat-fields, running high as hedges,
Isolate villages, where removed lives
 
Loneliness clarifies. Here silence stands
Like heat, Here leaves unnoticed thicken,
Hidden weeds flower, neglected waters quicken,
Luminously-peopled air ascends;
And past the poppies bluish neutral distance
Ends the land suddenly beyond a beach
Of shapes and shingle. Here is unfenced existence:
Facing the sun, untalkative, out of reach.

 

This is a crow town –

there are no magpies round here.

Solid black from beak to tailfeather.

 

We don’t do your fancy

Piebald glad rags.

We don’t talk your poncy language.

 

We do your straight

evisceration of live fledglings

while the mother squawks.

 

No frills, no grace-notes.

We don’t go for bright gewgaws

or pinch girls’ earrings.

 

We don’t mince about in tidings;

when we gang up

they call it murder.

 

We don’t bring bad luck

or good either.

Nobody bows and sucks up to us.

 

Nobody jabbers silly rhymes.

This is a crow town

where crows live and do crow things.

 

We want no magpies round here.

 

 

 

 

 

This is where the poets come to die:
like elephants in their legendary graveyard
they leave their bones, their teeth, but nothing
so rare as ivory.

You know all the stories…
Two of them shared one wife:
one tried to sell his gold tooth, being thirsty:
another drowned in marriage and normality:
a few fled in panic and never dared look back.

You think of it as human, this city.
You think of it as a woman –
decked with flowers, crannied with docks
whose waters have a female, secret smell.

At first she seems to beckon,
to offer you the freedom of her byways
to twine her streets around you
in a mistletoe embrace.
But her hosts are dependent on her;
they cannot escape, they forget to try,
they learn to love her as she drains them.

Her choice of iconography betrays her.
Here at the place where her heart beats hardest
two copper statues, corroded green –
one a bare-breasted amazon
threatening with a lethal trident;
the other sexless, nameless, hooded
and draped like death’s unbearable face.

You penetrate the vampire streets;
twilight coils you in its caress.
You think of giving it another year
since the city seems to fit you like a glove
and the docks possess your imagination
when sunset shows them brimming with blood.