An art book brings together
“The Last Judgement” and
“The Garden of Terrestrial Delights”.

Reality interposes
the thicknesses of many walls,
two nations,
and the Mediterranean Sea.

When the book shuts,
Bosch and Michaelangelo meet
face to face
in darkness.
Each separated
by mere molecules of air
instead of purpose,
place, and execution.

If art could ever come alive in books
and colour cross
when page caresses page
those fantasies
of veiled exploited flesh
would surely mingle.
The golden musculature
might run to blushing skin
and unsacrificed desire.

The Sistine Chapel’s roof
might turn itself into defeat –
and Popes themselves
beneath their robes
feel some confusion.

January 1990


for Pete Morgan

One step beyond the stile we trespass
down a margin of the world. A bluff escarpment,
thinly wooded, edges us to sanctuary
between machine cropped fields. Unplanned things,
like thoughts, may be allowed to flourish here
within the confines of electric fences.
Here is something other than we have
in terraced yards or lawn edged gardens:
here grow the undeveloped grasses,
or gather, in the hollows, cars that sculpt
themselves to rust. All that our living
has no need for made into a reservation.
Roads thread the grey horizons.
Beyond the trees and casual walkers
a careless energy consumes the world.

Tattenhall, March 1990


Jean in the corridor. I flatter her to see
she’s just the same – a disbelief in self
that makes her think she’s good at nothing.

Today she takes me on one side and asks me
when I need to know about her coming to
my wedding. “I have to have some surgery

and they won’t know till then. I may need
radiography.” A pause long enough
to hold the word that has such weight

no tongue can lift it when its time has come.
A desparate conversation of the eyes.
Funny how we smile. Things pass

into suspension. We walk through doors. The air
warms, it’s summer. Nature teems,
grows, greens, is good. A superabundance

of life believing there’s no knife or winter
to cut it back. “Just turn up on the day,”
I think but do not say the “please”.

“Well, I don’t know. Sometimes, afterwards
You don’t feel so well.” “That’s true,” I say.
But air and words between are like a mask.

We reach the door. The turning point.
“This’ll teach me to look so closely
at myself in showers.” She looks regretful.

A dust of oxide on a precious metal.
“It’s just as well you did,” I say.
Later we see each other through

so many windows as I teach my group.
She’s getting organised for something and she smiles.
How close it is, that smile, and far away.

Tarporley 1990
Eventually, alone except for her sons,
Jean died, about 10 years later

All History Now

for Andrew Pastor

Where other Councils would have placed a pier
or bandstand, Lyme keeps its town museum. Here
the past shelters from life’s unseasoned airs,
and graces, with its gothic roof and spires,
a shingle beach, The Cob, and boats that crowd
together in a harbour. Beyond, in closed-in cloud,
the careless tide picks fossils from each day
and turns them, with the humbler stuff, back to decay
and minerals and restless silt. Not so within:
a tweeded woman sitting with The Guardian
admits for 40p we unabrasive folk
whose harmless gaze alone will feast and pluck
at whorls and fragments of the protozoic slime
[and all the other local things that whim
and curiosity have rescued from the past
to fill the labelled cases under glass].

In spectacled insouciance, the lady
turns a page. So much gentility displayed. He
would be forgiven who thought these yesterdays
too crinolined to set a distant world ablaze.
We stroll past testaments to nearby craft
– The Cob [and tides] inlaid in wood; the deft
display of needlepoint; the church window
rescued from a field. “Like rummaging in a bureau
drawer” says Andrew who smiles and disappears.
A History man, he has an eye for what it wears.

I follow on, up towered stairs that tell
in photographs, of days cut off by fall
of snow, and find I’m looking at a small surprise:
the Focus of the Age had twice forgot its fears
of being too provincial, and had sent armies out.
Poor Monmouth was the first – Lyme has no doubt
his “character” lacked “firmness and nobility”.
He came ashore and was defeated. Posterity
allows his name to rule the beach his landing
fell on, if not a reputation standing.
Here are the slivers of his hanged men’s bones –
Judge Jeffreys did for them. He drank the town’s
hospitable wine and had his victim’s bellies split –
here’s the bill for board and booze, and next to it
the blackened disembowelling knife that showed
the innocent their shame and guilt. Three hundred
died, and under glass remain three artefacts.

From battle number two a heap of shot depicts
a bitter siege in 1644.
Not much to leave behind the English Civil War.
The size of gallstones these little things were brought
in having turned up on a tennis court
in 1938. How close and comforting
that sounds! No time of local gore or bloodletting –
unless you count the Great War Battleship
that sank, torpedoed. Downstairs, you mind, they keep
the boot that bailed and saved its owner’s lifeboat.
It looked like battered metal – almost too remote
to bring surviving death as close as words.
Well, maybe things speak louder than their deeds.

The lady with the paper calls us down.
“It’s lunchtime and we’re closing,” curls around
the narrow iron galleries. We go down stairs
as slowly as we dare. At the door she wears
a smile. “Do come back this afternoon.”
The noise of shouts and screams comes squalling in.
“That’s not the kind of person we like to see in Lyme,”
she says, and, sighing, locks the door on time.

October 1990