The Fabled Road


Hitching south in summer,
Magic-carpeted across the Border -
A paperback in every pocket,
Laing -  The Bird of Paradise -  
Kotzwinkle,  Castaneda.





Earls Court


Down-at-heel adventurers
Wide-eyed in cafe windows, sip
The elevated loneliness
Designed by Sartre and Burroughs.

Only the Australians 
Will ever go home.
A snowy wind, a wintry mind
Abandoned for an altered state

Of Beat and Hippy paperbacks,
Romantic travel, Kathmandu -
But savings totted on a napkin
Still wouldn't stretch to France.

Consolidating confidence 
In shivery independence;
Another coffee guarantees
Another hour of life.





Hispaniola


Wind-chilled on the mudflats
In a hazy winter sunrise,
The Irish - gaunt, chain-smoking -
Tumble from the ganger's van
Piratical, dishevelled,
Still wearing suits from last night.
Do they never sleep?

Fixing steel frenetically in sparkling frost 
Till the sun grows warm enough to warm the steel - 
And soon the hangover is sweated out,
Forgotten, and they start to talk.
Scarred, rust-red hands enfold 
Sweet mugs of tea. They start to laugh.

Gleefully obstreperous
They hoist and haul bridge-bouncing cables, 
Precarious on parapets in failing light, while
Civil engineers like tented generals
Pace and fret in nominal command.

Never tired and never sane
They lean from the van going home
Inviting London to pub and party,
Bright lights, and Hammersmith rain.






The Spyglass


Cheered by the jungle and shipwreck
Of a one-legged Hollywood legend -
Walrus moustache, 
A well-travelled rough-tweed jacket -
The yarn of adventurers, writers, old money,
A glimpse through an archway.
What fool would ignore
The clues that lead to destiny?

A friendly blues-voiced regular was Reggie King,
Who'd topped the bill at the Hundred Club.
He noted with approval that I, like him,
Was fond of Guinness and chain-smoking,
Tapping, from a soft blue pack, Gauloises.
Maybe I could be an exploited talent too;
Or failing that, a velvet essayist
Snoozing in a hat by humid seas...

The Seventies in Earls Court Road  -
An amiable Interzone
Where everyone is celebrating something -
Even if it's only the calming assurance
Things won't go back the way they were;
Hookahs and pastries, dealers in doorways;
The favourable ambush 
Of the sheltering pub.





April Fools


Soundtrack of the spring
Was Brand New Day -
Van Morrison caught the mood
Of light-filled convalescence -

Office Removal casuals
Driven at dawn down Regent Street
Or soaring over Westway,
Dangling, laughing, waving,
Like partisans on Liberation Day.

Driver Len 
With lurid wartime anecdotes,
McAllister, man-mountain,
Known to the police...
Andy, actor - so he tells us -
Yawning, brushing hair back 

And the bouncy Irish bluesman
Whose uncle once met Yeats -
Lounging languidly, apparently,
And wearing a cravat...

And interrupting anecdotes
The boss, ex-military, Hampstead class,
Brisk, arrogant, immaculate -
Theatrically bursting out  from camouflage
To roar at any riff-raff standing still...






Oasthouse Aromatic


Boxers, gamblers and scrap-metal moguls
Muscle in from the black-tie clan
Of Bethnal Green's lugubrious gangsters -
In-laws, outlaws, Jack 'The Hat' McVitie -
And overwhelm, back-slapping. 
September, so they're centre-stage
To tell eye-popping stories.

Scenery-chewing gypsies
Crack wood-nuts with their teeth -
Race red-hot tractors till they overturn,
Draw knives when they're demoted in the field.
Surviving children roam in expeditions
Bingeing on brambles, cornering
The occasional pheasant.

Opinionated students, liberal
With blacklists of the unacceptable,
Amuse avuncular farm regulars
Who mock with warm guffaws
The world-improvers
In clouds of airborne powdered hops
Intoxicating summer air.

Frenzied tractors bounce and roar
Flat out.  At teabreak - sunburn, banter,
And Old Man Henley 
Stately walks his kingdom.
What impossible task will he set us?
For a daughter's hand, a place in next year's crew -
Bring him the golden hop-bine?

After the hops, 
We bring October apples -
First shock of autumn cold. 
Caravans and children 
are dragged resisting from the rainy fields. 
One year to wait, in exile.







Happy Crew


A hapless, hilarious down-at-heel gang
Selling anything door-to-door
In Dublin and beyond.
Our yellow Fiat 127, indefatigable Biggsy,
Steam belching from his bonnet.

High-energy wit
In the runaway comedy
Of wilfully unrealistic thinkers -
Ecstatic conversation,
The sharing of random rewards.

In a hilly village, Biggsy breaks...
Black smoke from burning oil.
We peer into the mysterious engine.
Soft rain hisses on the engine block.

After the giggling rounds of drinks
I call my flat from Gogarty's Bar.
Can you come and rescue me?
I'm lost in the heart of Ireland.






Island


Music down a windy street -
Springtime trees and scattered petals,
Bright warm yellow door.

Sunny attic, view of clouds.
A blues fan from the Liffey delta
Introduces  Astral Weeks
By playing it through the wall.

Gina, in the room downstairs, is reading
Short Walk in the Hindu Kush
And recommending her beloved Zorba,
Jules et Jim, Jacques Tati's Trafic...

And Japanese Macrobiotics:
Enthusiastically pinning to my wall
An article from the Standard -
You Are All Sanpaku.

Brown rice, gomasio, bancha tea -
The spine-rush of energy
Lifting my hair in a thistle-burst
Like mad MacDiarmid on Selected Poems.

Well clear of winter shipwreck,
Embedded in warm sand
We wake up laughing.





Brimful


Seaforths in monochrome
Vanish into sunny wars,
A variant on walking tours
Gone upon alone.

Reissued 
Bound in cheerful cloth
I set out westward
Bicycling The Best of Myles 

Breath-awayed 
By Dante and the Lobster 
Held motionless
By the spears of the little gate.

Halfway to Paris!   I lean on the rail
Lit by the luminous wake.