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Diary: In Guy Vaes’s Footsteps

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Three PoemsAlan Ross
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A Calcutta Office

Entering my father’s old office
In Bankshall Street, the cries of paan sellers
And Hooghley steamer sirens
Drifting through shuttered windows,
I feel like a thief –

The desks in the same places,
The punkahs revolving, peons on their stations,
But the whole room shrunken,
As if by his absence, an empire meanwhile
And himself come to grief.

Smoking

Gazing riverwards he flicks a cigar butt
Onto the mud, a faint brssz as it hits.

He takes in a screen of trees, the struts
And filigree of bridges, a moored barge.

A water tower, the Scots baronial Lister Hospital,
T.S. Eliot’s old lodgings, shiver on his eyes.

Part of a reverie, this Chelsea seascape
Where nothing quite registers, or is over.

Absent from himself, the dull impact
Of tobacco on slime alerts him, recalls

A wartime patrol off Sheringham,
Leaning over the rail, smoking.

A breeze flounces water into petticoats,
There are figures in the wake, gesticulating.

No 45 Bus

They have unique brakes, juddering
To a halt with the noise
Of rubbery foghorns. In the early hours,
Sleepless, they cruise Beaufort Street,
Light on the river behind them
Like marbled endpapers, swilling
Under bridges. On such nights
In convoy ships lowed like cattle,

Sixth senses warning of proximity.
Hearing them I wake sweating.
In Battersea the gold Japanese pagoda
Looms out of darkness, mist patches
On plane trees like sheep’s wool
Caught up on barbed wire.
Water slips back on itself.
There’s a sense of light lifting.

The 45s pass, outward and homeward,
Acknowledging each other with toots
On their horns, like sister ships
With their sirens. Drivers exchange pleasantries,
Stop for fags. On this nocturnal
Cross-river route they are like pilots
Nosing an estuary, at ease with themselves
And each other, before dawn unmasks them.

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