Day breaks and the night steams North,
Its pitch-dark barges heading for
Cape Rigor and the Land of Truth,
Perfection’s speculative glare;
The seas ice over and preserve
Their endlessly refractive coast,
An empty and eternal curve,
Light packed against the polar frost.

These August nights are nothing more
Than souped-up evenings, sweat-soaked sheets,
Or coming to on someone’s floor
And morning’s featherweight retreats;
And even when we die we live
Hopped up in someone’s latest suit,
Pumped full of sour preservative,
Our grin set at the absolute,
For several sticky nights at least
Until we’re spaded in or burn
And flames or worms or poltergeist
Snap down the lid on our return.

No wonder, then, we keep this place,
This ideal arctic of the mind,
Despite the latest US base
Or half-crazed men returning blind;
No wonder that we make it white
And pure and blank, untrespassed on,
And outside time, an infinite,
Bright bunker of our own.

Los Angeles

Miniaturised on Astroturf
The golden athletes jump and run
As rolling static breaks like surf
Across the saturated screen;
A mythic Californian sun,
Boosting the colour, burns unseen.

In Greenwich, London, heavy rain
Has come to nothing. On the Thames
A tug hoots to an empty crane,
And for as far as the eye can see
The wharves with their defective names
Litter the estuary.

Tonight, like every other night,
Out through the cold and back,
A microelectric satellite
Dodges the stars and reconnects
The unphased image with the docks’
Bronchitic sound effects,

While Coliseums, white and clean,
Stuck in their cubes of coastal haze,
Their tides and fogs of gasoline.
Are bounced across the hyperspace
And only the speed of light delays
The smile on each miniature winner’s face.

This is our future, this is why
Remote, evangelistic, bright
America is riding high
On space-wars, sport and politics,
And all the things that won’t go right
That a little cash can fix.


Ten miles above the tits at St Tropez
A satellite’s remote, panoptic eye
Is tracking us and quietly waiting for
The gesture that could culminate in war;
You scratch your nose, I finish my ice-cream
And screw the silver paper in the sand.
Your milky skin is tanning like a dream.
That ultra-violet shadow is my hand.
The camera rolls on, its frozen lens
Picks out the agriculture of the Fens
Then swaps the filters for the infra-red
Cupolas of beleaguered Leningrad.

You shift and turn, your shoulder-blade could be
The smooth lid on some high-tech armoury
And fear stirs in the craters that begin
To open on my weakly English chin.
White clouds wind like a turban round the peaks
That top the Himalayas and the sun,
Its compost of alchemical techniques
Transmutes the globe and lets us focus on
Calcutta pullulating with its poor,
The psychopaths that bleed El Salvador,
The human tides of Tokyo and then
The terrifying silence of Phnom Penh.

The earth speeds up, its shrunken polar caps
Like parachutes tumescently collapse,
The tilting coasts of snow give way to ice
Then bergs of light on Asian belts of rice.
At eight you plan to have the hotel fix
Your hair and come to meet me in the town,
Its chill and its salinity that pricks
And tightens up a skin that’s nicely brown:
Those stars we hope to drink beneath tonight
Are pledged to North America, that white
Deliberative brilliance even now
The obsolescent hardware of The Plough.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN


Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences