Mr Pease’s Day of Days

It is an occasion to be consumed
by transport. Crowds of us turn up
to witness the miracle. Steam, the
infant prodigy, is raised, with many heads
nodding at the hissing gouts, the
clacking rods, the clanking rails.

Triumph billows in the air. Locomotion,
not yet named iconically, is merely
Active. She’s fresh by road from
Mr Stephenson’s works on Tyne
and gathers under him her dizzy way.
8 miles per hour, workmen,
500 souls too grand or rich
to walk, 12 carriages of coal
– held back by one red flag and now
outdated horse. No matter if a sticky
valve delays, or wagon derails – we’ve
done with patience, are up there with
the fire-man and his tender coal,
ready to move on.

Tonight a banquet
to usher in this iron road, this way
of fire, soon faster than tomorrow.
Where else to be but here?

But visionary Quaker Edward Pease,
owner of the track, our father to the future,
keeps away. It is his day, and not.
Isaac, his son, this time of all,
is taken by Consumption. And where else
should a father be, but holding on,
hoping for a dearer future where there’s none?

Unlike the quest for speed and better
trade, a death remains our undefeated
signalman, companion to our ends,
our progress, and our joy.

They Were Never Wrong

In the city of Cosimo de’ Medici,
two soldiers in fatigues, with automatic rifles;
two armed policemen – one overweight,
a family man, the other tanned, young
and assisting; and three paramedics – one
a girl who struggles with the ambulance’s
sliding door, and all in hi-viz yellow: have come
to take a youth, who lies, grey hooded,
in a station doorway. This tableau, somewhere
west of Bethlehem, freezes, waiting
for the painter and an easel. Gets me,
the tourist on the bus. I do my best,
in honour of the city on the Arno.

The boy’s dark hair, and deep, deep skin
speaks of Africa, His thin legs dangle,
too weak to take the weight his small
life needs to bear.  What care he will
receive, I’ll never know – nor whether
poverty, drugs or drink had brought
him low. A refugee unsheltered or
feeble menace to the state?

The bus takes me away
and Mozart whispers in my ears.
And round our city palaces and galleries,
the fortresses of our past and care,
oil-painted waters pluck and pound.








Cicadas mate like crickets in the grasses
dry from this Italian summer.
Round the pool we also gather,
More noises, callings, rituals, displays.

A woman, blue costume lacing
front to back, oils her partner’s
body with her palm. It’s factor 20
comes between them, later
he’ll burn, hot skinned in her arms.

Two girls smoke, laugh and lie together.
Tuscan, brown as olives, tasting.
A dozen tattoos back their conversation.
A heart in red, cartoons the faith
that brings us all together in the end.

For those of us who are not young,
there is the mirror of the water, our feet
disturbing, shocked to feel its sudden
cool – an amniotic balm, a hint
of dying  on some other day. The rest

of us read books, and watch the shadows –
thrillers, or excitements felt from missing,
something. Our pages turned or turning.
Sleep also holds, behind dark lenses,
Sleep: sun-dowsed, dazed and welcome.

And evening calls. We guise our bodies –
wraps and towels. Grey and tan,
a pigeon dips, and drinks the water,
arrows to a thin and dancing tree.

And crickets like cicadas call in grasses.

Canalicchio 2018

Empire Windrush

Empire Windrush. Grey ghost of war.
Twin-funnelled troopship bringing back
the Forces from their newsreels, outposts,
and jungle camps. From last posts, and lowering flags.

She’s slow and diesel driven – and launched
as Monte Rosa in a German yard.
A cruiser for vacations, and the middle classes.
And then the Kreigsmarine. Berthship
to the Tirpitz, Auschwitz ferry for Norwegian
Jews – endures air attacks and mines. Survives.

Under British hands, she pays the price
of peace. White paint shrouds sides
that buckled under war. Blighty-bound,
half empty, calls at Kingston and offers
passage to a thousand citizens, newly minted
by a government desperate for willing hands.

Curious to see the land so many fought
to save, they find the forty quid and come
aboard. Thus filled with hope she sails
for England, and a place in history the Equal
of Trafalgar, Agincourt or Waterloo.

New waters for the future meet
her prow. At Tilbury, grey frowning
skies rain blessings and surprise.
It’s June, but cool enough to stand
and shiver on the docks, and wait
to fill the shortages they’re here to satisfy.

The Windrush sails away. Empire sunsets
churned froth and pother at her stern. At last,
she burns and sinks, her contribution made.

A generation makes its home, ignoring
cards in doors and shops that advertise
“No coloureds”. The slums and cities make
them room, and heritage adds on another page.

Once enslaved, transported chained, plantation-
bound, then freed to poverty’s thin dreams,
they London’s voices richly spice with sun,
and suffering. Deepened and engaged, English
suddenly awake finds new rhythms in its feet.

It takes a dozen years or more for startled
whites to close the door on opportunity.
Betrayal shakes a hostile hand, minds fill
with wasting tribal fear. The voice of England
forgets the rights of man, the promises of war.

Each party over, every politician clamours
For the closing of the doors, and seeks a way to send
the yearning back to their hovels or the sea.

Windrush rises from the deeps and sails again,
evoked by ministers who bend the rules,
and marks the careless crimes of those whose biros
sign the orders to deport. Black heroes flew
and fought to hold the spread of camps, and
looked for better orders – now fall to age,
feel clerks’ indifference with quotas to fulfill.

The River Windrush flows and flows,
and adds more depths to English as it goes.

Thursday’s Child

for Tim & Helena Jones

A visit to Liverpool after 46 years
completes our university education.
Across the road from stop and bus
that brought us daily in, from hall to lectures,
we find The Sheltering Home for Destitute Children.

Back then, it gathered in the homeless and abandoned –
when cities rode, elaborate with grace, discarded poverty.
Charity swept streets of strays – scrubbed,
schooled and gave them faith for service.
Transported them to Halifax and Nova Scotia.
Job done and sweeter than the workhouse bench!

Concerned with student life, we never noticed.
A generation fed on free degrees and opportunity,
we had the future in our grasp. So much for eye-opening
experience expanding sensibility. We knew the words,
but only Dickens’ comic genius consumed us,

masked by fog upon the river. Older and almost
within reach of wisdom, we grasp it now.
New owners have repurposed the building, for new
journeys. Gold paint shines in the letters
we never saw. Our turn for Canada at last.

Liverpool 15.3.18