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

Who Pays the Ferryman?






Don’t all good things appear in threes?
Lists, Christian deities, oils to ease
the rusted bolt? In Rome they broke the mould,
abandoning the triumvirs to confer state power
twice – on Caesar, then Octavian. Much good
it did them, for a while. Better those old Greeks
with three great rivers in Epirus: the Styx
whose waters plunged the gates of hell;
grim Kokytos, river of Lamentation;
and Pyriphlegithon, which flowed Flaming Fire.
They met at Acheron, and hereabouts you paid
the ferryman his fare, and crossed the lake to death.

No worries then. Today we come as Greeks
on holiday from all of that. In Parga, twelve
licensed cabs run pleasure seekers to their heavens.
filling beaches, bays, and boat decks, slowly turning
in the sun like peanuts roasting. We shelter vainly
from its basting fire in books, conduct an aimless
quest for memories with our mobile phones.
Or we can cruise the mythic waters, and bathe
like starfish in its azure deeps. Pleasure cruisers
nip like sharks about our heads. At night we cross
into a dazy sleep of comfort, sacrificed with cheeses,
meats and fishes, taken there by cocktails,
wines and brandy – forgetting Charon’s charges,
his calls upon our cares and bank accounts.