Another dry summer
The garden hose lies out
all day. Each night I water
flowers whose anonymity, colour,
character and short, short life I respect.

Another dry summer in Africa
Sad children die of cholera,
a name we have exported with the
automatic rifle and the tank.
Their remote lives, unwatered, wither.
Ammunition blooms on the ground at their feet.


OS Sheet 78 [1961]

Envisage every layer that a map contains –
the naked earth, its contours combed with pleasure
round each hill; the rivers, runs of coastline,
and each cliff; the early settlements like puckered skin;
the castles, mansions crumbling in their gothic script;
towns, conglomerates that grow their random streets
in filaments of grey; the railways, roads and motorways
that try to give the whole some sense of running
to a plan – each element a mark of god, or sign
that need or greed has kept the landscape in its grasp,
or touch of someone’s hand upon a page.

An up-to-date O.S. holds everything
we have or were. Discovers what’s around us
and each hedge – no seeming secret place
that can’t be found or guessed at, or privacy
for distant monarchs in their glens. In time,
an older map will tell you what you’ve lost.
That mine that once sprawled heaps and railheads
by those brick-walled yards has gone, and in its place
a landscaped park, a quick estate, a superstore.

On my map flows a past with all its routes
intact, keeps now alive with guesses at each turn.
Turn right, along a road that isn’t there,
but is, to a future that has happened and is not.

August 1993

The Parachutist

It is about to be a moment Bruegel
could have painted. There are the builders
on the roof next door working, their hammers
reporting in the still air. From them to the edge
of the world a red square has opened. More tiles
are neatly stacked beneath them, waiting. A tractor
is going about its business reorganising nature.
An aeroplane is in the dreamy faraway
blue of the sky, And a man is falling.
For the record, he is working for the BBC.
He is filming a careful reconstruction
for a programme that lines up miraculous
survivals. It is his third jump of the day,
and his last. For the sake of Continuity
he has struggled into someone else’s
equipment as well as into someone else’s
moment not to die. He takes his two mile
walk on air. His helmet camera rolls.
The men on the roof look up. Across the air
his shouts are clear, “Oh no, Oh no, Oh no,”
They watch him loosening the tie of life to life,
and feel their own precariousness threaten.
He ends a mile away through trees in marshy
ground and leaves the world in silence. It takes
the searchers hours to dig his body out.
For days he’s falling through the village overhead.
Planes circle in our heads. He never seems
to land. An ending has us in its grasp.

February 1993

Young Animals

It was the House of the Rising Sun. That summer.
’64. We turned our backs on town,
at Rickney Farm the Pevensey levels radiated
water to the sea – such opportunities for boys.

A barn, and hay, and no adult to be found.
Jones tuned his sister’s radio to Caroline. I’d never
heard such moonshine sound, so far from Sunday
dinners, Billy Cotton, Ray’s a Laugh.

At first, we built our fortresses for tanks and planes,
then, though I couldn’t swim, cruised down
wide ditches in the farm canoe. The Panasonic
in its leather case came too – and played the future

underneath the canvas waterline. On such cruises
of discovery did we find the subjects of these dreams –
three girls. Like us, fourteen, and sent. I held
the bow, and David, grinning, got them in.

Old hands in love, we showed them how to paddle,
our landing place the cattle used, the stinking
milk-eyed pike we’d dredged from weeds and thrown
onto the bank. They laughed. We knew sophisticated things.

My mother read the letter from one later on
and showed me, scandalised. We all should meet,
it said, on Sunday afternoon – the pictures
in their town. It was another world

to come, and seeing it my mother raged.
The letter disappeared. Impossible to reach,
We never went and David never knew.
Soon after that the winter came, a birthday,

and I nearly got my way. A radio
to find those pirate feelings on. All they could
afford, it never worked, except to find
the Home on, on a Sunday afternoon.

August 1993