In the latest issue:

The Politics of Like and Dislike

William Davies

The Shrine

Alan Bennett

After the Shock

Adam Tooze

Punishment by Pressing

Hazel V. Carby

The Suitcase

Frances Stonor Saunders

Short Cuts: Thanington Without

Patrick Cockburn

The Lessons of Reconstruction

Randall Kennedy

Company-States

Linda Colley

Eva Hesse

Anne Wagner

Parachuted into France

Neal Ascherson

The Age of Sail

N.A.M. Rodger

Poem: ‘Near Gleann nam Fiadh’

Robin Robertson

‘You People’

Clare Bucknell

What Didn’t Happen

Michael Wood

Forster in Cambridge

Richard Shone

Diary: In Ashgabat

James Lomax

Close
Close

They come each evening like virgins to a well:
the girls queuing for the xerox-machine,
braceleted and earmarked, shapely as pitchers
in their stretch Levis or wraparound shirts,
sylphs from the typing-pool bearing the forms
of their masters, the chilly boardroom gods.

But this one, this nervous one, is different.
She doesn’t gossip with the others and pleads,
when it’s her turn, no, you go first.
Not until they’ve gone, their anklets chinking
down the corridor, does she lift the hatch
and dip her trembling hand into the well.

A lightshow begins under the trapdoor:
it flashes and roars, flashes and plashes,
each page the flare of a sabotaged refinery
or the fission of an August storm.
Minutes pass, they slide into the wastebin,
but something is committed for all time.

Sweetface, twoface, little sulky one,
you were never so alone again:
they took a week or more to find you
but they found you, your cheeks lit palely
not from the photocopier’s shuttle
but in the lightning of a Nikon swarm.

And what has this to do with it? How you sat
one night by a heifers’ drinking-trough
near Yelverton, afraid and down-at-heel
in a mud-churned, midge-drizzling negative,
then saw the country rising from its shadow
under the sudden candour of a moon.

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