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Wednesday, 05 January 1994 15:24

The Illusion of Movement

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The ILLUSION

of MOVEMENT

 

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The Smell of the Coast

 

After our games had ended

in squabbles and in kicks

our mouths raw and garish

from too many boiled sweets

once we'd spied A to Z

on registration plates

shimmering

over the blistered tarmac

then up we would pipe

from the back seat:

When shall we see the sea, Daddy

When shall we see the sea?

 

Through by-passes, fields, industrial estates

lay-bys where we'd stop to pee, stretch legs,

and sip a thermos of milky plastic,

we'd hark for the cries

of gulls overhead,

desolate for the smell of the coast

and though they only wheeled

over rubbish tips

not five minutes passed

before we begged

When shall we reach the sea, Mummy?

How far is it to the sea?

 

Hardly any closer, she'd say,

since last time you asked. Or Dad:

the more you look forward

the longer it'll take.

So we'd pipe down, tune to the radio news

bulletins unchanged all afternoon,

stare out the window

unable to credit or count

how many seconds make up an hour

how many waysigns between here and there

and if it isn't ages until we arrive

it won't be forever until we leave

 

But over every ridge

behind the tree silhouettes

the sky seemed to ripple, brighten

with a marine light

and soon there'd be bungalows

with portholes instead of windows,

yachts on the curtains, toothpaste blue,

shells in the pebbledash. The street

would dip away

and between b&b's, candy-floss, tar

I see the sea. I see the sea. There it is.

Here we are.

 

What was it all about?

Two weeks to scour up and down the beach

dodge turds bobbing by the outflow pipe

lick sand off a molten ice-cream.

But nothing could defeat us

even at night

sunburnt between the cool white sheets

we'd cup the shell

of our ears to our heads

and drift off

to the waves milling the shingle

tide rummaging the shore

sounding like the ocean sounds

but louder


Poole Harbour

 

I hate the sea

not for it's salt or violence

but for it's quiet desperation

it's terrible monotony

 

Dad took us out from the harbour years ago

cadging for mackerel on nylon lines:

when almost by mistake we hauled one in

it just wouldn't die

thrashing in the boughs

like a slice of battered aluminium

and Dad just laughed the more I cried

 

He said he'd felt exactly the same

when he was my age and that

one day I'd be telling my son

the same thing he was telling me

as we lost sight of land

the mackerel thrashing in the boughs

like a slice of battered aluminium

 

And that's why I hate the sea

Not for it's salt or violence

 

but for it's quiet desperation

it's terrible monotony


The Green Belt Boy

 

Where does he come from

the Green Belt boy

and where can he go?

 

Far from his plain

vanilla heart from

his suburban soul

 

Grinding to a halt

around Northwood Circus,

dark in the afternoon

having spent all morning in a queue

for a waxworks or a zoo,

less frightened by the chamber of horrors

than the puce wallpaper in Crippen's room,

the Green Belt boy stares out the back of the car

face round as the moon.

 

Sunday evenings seem to stretch forever

like the red tail lights ahead.

The night glows sodium orange

behind high-rise silhouettes.

Soon he'll be staring out of his bedroom

Mum ironing in the kitchen

while the radio divas croon

till the forecast for inshore waters

and next day school.

 

He came from nowhere

the Green Belt boy

sitting in his little room in his little house

watching the sun set

over his own small world

Him and his big ideas

 

Once he believed Northwood Circus

was 

a circus: tigers, peanuts, stilts,

a monkey photographed on his shoulder,

a Clown mask on his shelf.

For years he couldn't pass by here

without a looking for a tent.

It took a long hard education

on the roads of Outer London

before he would accept

there is no castle at Elephant and Castle,

no palace at Crystal Palace,

and no circus at Northwood Circus.

Just a traffic roundabout

(the odd pelican or zebra crossing)

a ring of tarmac and kerbstone

round a patch of dead grass

like a big top would leave

when a circus has moved on

 

He comes from nowhere

the Green Belt boy

so where does he go?

 

Deep into his plain

vanilla heart into

his suburban soul

 


The Green Belt Boy Comes Home

 

England is anxious as an airport

when fog has delayed all flights.

Passengers grin, but their smiles

are as forced as an air-hostess.

Truculent husbands, worried wives

count the minutes eating crisps.

This is his land, these are his people

this is just his luck.

 

On the train back through the suburbs

brambles purple, green and black

even the railway verge is maudlin

and he wishes he hadn't come back.

To think he missed it in the tropics

dreamt of rain and Sunday roast

condensation on the windows

food that tastes like boiled fog

 

Starting school, the Green belt boy

black-haired, brown-eyed, aged five

asked by his schoolmates if he was Indian,

thought a moment, lied.

Said yes when they asked if he was a Prince

if he rode on an elephant said yes.

Eighteen years later, he arrives in India

still apologizing for his provenance

 

And in Delhi he joins other travellers

selling their clothes on the street.

In Benares, hidden under a turban,

he still can't change the colour of his face.

But in Darjeeling, delirious with dysentery,

three goddesses dance around him and say:

‘See how we change, see how we change

the English boy into an Indian shape’

 

Till he wakes and finds himself

lying on a luggage rack

in a compartment filled with strangers

lulled by the rattle on the track

of a train bound through the night

over a continent, alien and vast,

and he like a spark burning

going nowhere going there fast

 

To the chill of an English station,

the quiet backstreets home,

neighbours windows on a winters evening

like tropical aquariums:

a dog with eyes like saucers,

pot-plants crying out for water,

this is his land, from which he's made

so foreign and exotic and strange

January 1994

 

 

 

Read 1387 times Last modified on Tuesday, 27 September 2011 15:47
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