MV Norland

In the Antelope Bar strangers of passage
gather to digest their dinner over drinks,
and slip away from England in brochured comfort.

Where we sit, a modest painting disturbs the wall’s
chromatic harmony. Enshrined in brassy light,
it’s artless tribute shows narrow land,
a brief, unsheltering sea, and two ships caught
in the trap of war: Antelope broken in two,
her risen bow an elegant finger of authority
in the defeating air; and Norland, black hulled
and squat, escaping an explosion of brush strokes
in the impassive water at her stern.

Tonight, in pastel pinks and greys, and trimmed
reflectively in chrome, she moves with safety
on the oily darkness, and we can share
with drinks and cigarettes, that necessary
spoil of war, indifference. But in
the disco, on the light shadowed floor,
where now two lines of swaying figures row
to the commands of music learnt in clubs
in safe English towns, they might have brought
the wounded, burned or bloody from the sea,
and lain them, the assault of air and history
still screaming in their ears. Beneath the bleary
excitement of the music, great engines turn.
There is a shiver in the soft clad floor.

And out there, in the stream of night’s ugly
tenderness, Jellicoe’s great Navy grappled
indecisively with the Imperial Fleet
of the usurper, and unvanquishable
dreadnoughts split their sides and poured their crews’
closed lives into the minute’s oceans.
To such tunes of glory as were played,
boys drowned, and ‘our bloody ships’ kept to their
schedules. Over such waters do we dance,
our moving pleasures measured by the closing
of the bar, a final slow paced sway
in careless arms, and coffee served to keep
awake the conversation. Beyond the glass,
a continent of wind sweeps past, unnoticed.

In the daylight, Zeebrugge’s harbour extends
two claws into the grey flecked sea. Norland
sails past immaculate where other tourists died.
The upturned bathtub boat, the TV lights,
the hand beneath the canvas shroud. Ungraspable.

Dawn and sobriety bring closer touches
of such ironies. Shivering from the cold,
we cluster to the funnel, and look out across
the half healed gulf in silence. From the ship’s
steel heart come shudders of warmed air. At last,
we go below to wait our final call.




Giant Steps in Photography


Rockstar drunkard coping with easy gravity.
An unsteady child, his footprints litter the ground
like biscuits. First to this dustbowl beach he’s brought
his postcard flag, and wrinkled lilo suit.
The emptied eye of his face stares back,
collects the vacant space beyond. Shadows
stream from his feet holding us to his place
in history. Beyond the earthlit circle of his day
the cliches gather moonlight in the darkness.


The photograph my mother took of me in front
of my grey rusty Ford that cost her Seventy
Pounds cannot be found. The Instamatic
I bought her for her birthday would have taken it.
It too is lost. I stood beside the driver’s door,
the first of many times, and looked as if
another day would come. A smile or grin
would part fill the frame. The car would do
the rest. Her pride and love would not
have noticed any itchings to be gone.


Armstrong, Aldrin and the other one were up there
snapping at the very time. First steps
upon the moon, or miles in my first car.
Mankind will not forget. Exciting times
for human enterprise and care they were.

 Chester 1988