Four new poems
The Case Against Canute
When jeans became the insolence of the rich
We returned on principle to three-piece suits,
In the style of Clement Attlee and Stafford Cripps…
But dissidence is an ambiguous affair:
In not conforming we needed to be aware
That to go against the trend was a tactic which
Also characterised the cunning three-line whips
Of Alternative Modishness, who were equally in cahoots
With Money. “Whatever it is, I’m against it!”
Was a dictum of the philosopher Marx, Groucho
-And it worked if it grabbed attention and rang the till.
The idea was, Don’t just stay there in the swim,
Devise some ingenious utterly dissim-
ilar food-or-scent-or therapy for complaints it
Was stylish to have, and in that way fulfil
The requirements of high fashion’s in-and-out show.
Best of all at this was the legendary king
Whom we see as the sad victim of his rotten
Pride and self-delusion. In reality,
He’d fired the consultants who told him he should abide
By their focus-group researches of the tide,
And became immortal by staking everything
On a subtle scheme to go down in history
As the ultimate dissident. Mad, yes – but not forgotten.
I heard a lonely man in a bar
Sing Here’s to animals!
-Unwittingly toasting every she
In a nearby Girls’ Academy.
(Chorus of Professors:)
If he had felt any tremor of doubt
He could have left some of our students out,
Not all are perfect. But he didn’t.
So-all together now-Here’s to animals!
I heard a hungry man in a bar
Sing Here’s to vegetables!
-Unknowingly praising every root
Or stalk or bough that provided fruit.
(Chorus of Ecologists:)
If he’d been liable to pick and choose,
He would have been content to lose
A few examples. But he wasn’t.
All together now-Here’s to vegetables!
I heard a sturdy man in a bar
Sing Here’s to minerals!
-Rejoicing in all the age-long stayers,
Alps and Andes and Himalayas.
(Chorus of Geologists:)
If he hadn’t adored every rock and stone
He should have left some of them alone,
They’re hazardous. But he couldn’t.
All together then-Here’s to minerals!
I heard a distant man in a bar
Sing Here’s to the cosmos!
-Lauding everything, near and far,
Near a big black hole in an ultimate bar.
(Chorus of Astrophysicists:)
He need not have relished each particle
And force as the genuine article,
But he did just that. All together now-
Here’s to him-and here’s to you-
And Here’s to the cosmos, through and through!
Drink-drink-drink-to all of it,
And stay away from the black black pit.
Began with watching war-stricken soldiers play
At a military hospital where I-if you please!-
Was a guinea-pig patient having his blood replaced
As a possible cure for childhood allergies.
On a makeshift wicket in the grounds, on a calm day
Of collateral sunshine, Wilson faced
Deliveries from Todd, with Baxter his runner ready
-And blocked ball after ball. Down in the book
Went platoons of diagonal pen-strokes, filling
Neat box after box-until that sudden hook,
Wilson’s only stroke, dispatched his steady
Partner with bat thrust forward, willing
His own lame leg to win them a safe run.
When he’d reached the crease, Wilson would join him there,
Hobbling slowly down to wait for his next chance,
Which would come without warning as soon as one
Loose ball in about four overs provided a fair
Opportunity for scoring. From his grim trance
Of concentration, Wilson would suddenly
Emerge, open his shoulders-and eight-nine-ten
Came up in slammed singles made when he’d seen a gap
In the legside field, Baxter judging exactly when
He should start to lurch forward doggedly
Down the uneven pitch. Those two could wrap
A game up one run at a time, achieving
Through sheer persistence what other men would try
To accomplish by risk and daring and get nowhere.
Sixty-six years on I remember them, and lie
Awake in the blacked-out ward, with bombers leaving
Overhead for Cologne, and still can’t bear
To imagine their futures. I myself left half-cured
Of my ailments by rigorous exercise with their drill-
Sergeant in the gym, which I had to attend
For my own rehabilitation. Did their firm will
Mean they recovered strength enough to be assured
Of more horrors, in desert or jungle? Or in the end,
Did they simply limp away, declared exempt
From extra bloodshed, to die in saner places?
I’ve tried in vain to work out how some can let
Life’s harsh deliveries hurtle towards their faces,
And either ignore them, or clobber them with contempt.
Some things you never learn but can’t forget.
His Travels – I
He books into a half-a-star hotel
In a non-cathedral city. Her mobile is off.
Whose mobile? He goes to their once-favourite
Restaurant where he half-expected to dine her.
She does not show up. And this place only serves wine
By the bottle. So, never mind, he’ll take
What he doesn’t manage back to his hotel room
-Except he won’t, the waitress has binned the cork
And pours constant fill-ups, soon he’s drunk the lot.
The evening, like many others, away or home,
Is a stuporous failure, it founders in a mire
Of unworthy effort. But can he say, Serve me right?
No, he can’t. (Whose mobile? His latest-before-last’s.)
When he checks out, the man who takes his laundry
Is at Reception sorting out bills and receipts.
He is man of cultural refinement
Who can summon up a disarming turn of phrase:
“I see we’re still washing your Oxfam shirt, sir.
It has seen better days-few of them with you.”
It occurs to Ludbrooke that if, like any other
Civilised man, he keeps a graded list
Of his larger garments (stopping short of what
The hotel calls “private items”) and changes one when
It falls below C+, he should listen
To this man regarding this shirt, which he now wears
To go home in, having awarded it a B.