COMMON GROUND

Lines near Westminster Bridge

Two men of bronze, in diagonal corners.
Between them, earth, bared of grass
from the late queen’s funeral crowd;
or a protest army; or tourists ebbing
towards white stone, scraped clean
of grime, or blood. Churchill: close to
the House he charmed with lisping growls,
a stubborn lurch with stick, and faltering
reputation bubbling. His back, hunched
as if Plantagenet unhorsed, is turned away.
And then Mandela: arms outstretched, smiling,
reaching for different futures from the possible.
His rainbow land retreats from promises.

Words, their stock in trade, unheard
against the hum and strain of traffic
snarled at lights. More statues strike
claims to gratitude, each gathering in
their places, the tyrannies enriched
and buried in our past. Ghandi, dhotied,
his bike-wheel specs focusing
on poverty and renunciation. India, unfettered,
makes way through butchery and murder.
Smuts, our boyhood nickname for a Smith
of any kind, conjoining empire and war.
And on through Empire’s fine etcetras.

And then behind the fence, protecting myths
from all us passers-by, two men in uniform
discuss the weather, to by-pass time.
White copper, and an Asian guy
from some private army, they laugh
and gossip, making up for history’s old
stones, and a new future in the sun.

London, September 2022

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