Air of a Fable


Hitching south in summer,
Magic-carpeted across the Border.
A Beetle-driving bass guitarist
Scribbled an address in Putney -
A technicolor hippy flat,
Mattresses and albums.

Rumours of enlightenment -
A paperback in every pocket,
Sri Ramana,  RD Laing...
Luxuriant Castaneda.
Festive work for cash-in-hand -
Wimbledon, the Palace lawn.

Éclairs, iced coffee, tiny cups -
And bearing down on the catering tent,
The Queen's top-hatted entourage. 
To whom does cartoon pomp appear? 
Stoned, peripheral, stuffed with cake -
Pretty much like dreaming, this 'awake'.




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,
These early days of 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...






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 -
Plenty Sanpaku, Mr Whitelaw!

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.






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,
Backpedal,  mocked with warm guffaws
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.
Air of a fable;  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.







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.






I Hear the Surf Booming


Drawn to the warmth of gold we reach Hawaii,
Tahiti, Treasure Island, Coromandel -
But first we land where there's no rivalry,
Where no-one qualified, with any class,
Would want to go.

Beheadings in the village square -
Lashings, gold, and fly-blown meat.
Cockroaches carpet the shower,
Scattered by naked bulb and feet -
The zizzing of malarial mosquitoes.

Slaughterhouse shrieks erupt
From the neighbour's yard -
Last moments of panic;
Arterial spray.

Quieter, stunned, on a civilised beach -
Bad dreams take a year to fade.





Quake Zone


Desk lunch -
Chilled bento box and bitter tea.
What's wrong?  The water's safe, sip,
You can smell the chemicals -
And look, my desk-drawer's spilling pills,
The company protects us.  Wait -
The phone are ringing -  something's wrong...
Oh no!  Month-end reports don't balance to the yen!
Disarray is so embarrassing - attention will be drawn.
Cancel the meeting.  Tell them I'm dying.
Act like nothing's wrong.

Hotel room windows locked?
Sir, that's for your protection.
High flyers facing shame preempt the fall;
Red faces all round.
What do you want fresh air for anyway?
Everything is centrally controlled -
And for your peace of mind, the building,
Though very tall, is thoughtfully designed to roll
And swerve.  The swaying won't last long.
So stay in your room.  Ignore the alarm.
Act like nothing's wrong.







Singapore Menu


A humid nest of offices
High in a mouldy, echoing building 
Overhanging Middle Road -
Massage parlours, jungle stench of durian,
Downpours of warm rain.  Perhaps
As close to paradise as frailty will allow.

Where shall I book for your lunch today?
The Szechuan Court -  a steamer of
Dainty dumplings, ginger, black vinegar dip;
Crispy fresh fish in orange sauce,
Dessert of red bean pancake;  the usual
Chunky white teapot of green tea -
Or perhaps across the road to Raffles,
For Hainan Chicken?

Or will you come umbrella'd in the rain
To jostle through the steamy Hawkers' Market
With the rest of us,
For pork-fat soup and chicken feet?
We won't be offended,  whatever you choose.






Speech!


Back in the pioneering days
I set out westward
To the isle of Joyce and Van the Man
And fell among salesmen.

Portal to the picaresque -
Bagman for a swivelling boss
Backlit with trophies
Above a pub in smoky Dublin.

Chaotic dreamers -
Commission-only desperadoes
On the run from ordinary -
Late-night laughers
Trying to memorise a script.

Today, my fellow veterans 
Look back from Intercon or Plaza
To pin-point glory -
The day the drill of language sprang
The cash-box of the world.

And many's the night we dream of sandstone -
The Manse,  A Chapter on Dreams -
But linksland, mostly, and sand,
And rain on a golf-shack roof.





Business Lounge


The Cobol of the Caesars'
Exuberant empire
Is displacing the Assembler
Of Plato's elite -

And antique dialogue in every scene
Requires rewriting.
We need itinerant scholars
To celebrate in art

The code of the imperial machine.
When can you start?
Poets!  Queue like gentlemen -
No fighting.

Perform Round-the-World until
Rich-and-Remote.
Exit.
Stop Run.