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By SennenDavid Harsent
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Vol. 20 No. 11 · 4 June 1998
Poem

By Sennen

David Harsent: After a painting by Jeremy LeGrice

407 words

After a painting by Jeremy LeGrice

… in London, of course you are, landlocked
in your kitchen, but just a step, after all,
from the door into the hall, and then just a step
from the door into the street
where the cabbie is more than happy to wait
by the slip-road that takes you out through the wrecked
hulks of tower blocks, happy to stop-
start-stop in the backed-
up traffic, its tide-race of tail-lights,
its surf of crap and slop,
letting you out with a minute or so to spare
for the westbound train, a minute
or less, so you scarcely believe you’ve done it,
except landing-lights in the bare
backs of houses are slipping past
too fast for counting, while some sudden, clear,
cold wind is shaking the fire-escapes
like rigging, and that sky-high blur
of dark cloud laid on darkness is the test
of where you are, of what you’ll come to next,
which is why you fall asleep from fear or habit,
which is why you wake up with the ghost
of kitchen-whiskey, why the first and last
shreds of memory hold only the best and worst
of what you first intended, as your fist
strikes the window, as your foot
slaps the platform, putting you just a step, a step
or two, from the cliff path and the path
that goes from the cliff to the beach,
wind ringing your ears almost as much
as the cries of seabirds which fast
become the birds themselves, afloat
on the massive uprush of air that flows from the root
of the cliff and up over its lip, which makes you think,
‘Bird’s-eye view: myself just pate and boot
and little salt-white hands,’ while you trample out the pith
and bladder of seaweed, setting off the unholy stink
from its silky, liverish reds, beyond which
lies nothing, lies nothing at all, unless
it’s the sea that cheats the eye, the sea that gives endless
accounts of itself, running green and green-and-white,
and a deeper green beneath; you can hear it, can’t you,
that low-in-the-throat, that hysterical hiss;
you keep your eye on the fault-line, don’t you,
where sea and sky squeeze out a line of light;
you’ll stay there, won’t you,
fronting the weather, learning it all by rote? –
Bird’s-eye view: myself almost out of sight,
little salt-white… And that deeper green beneath to prompt you.

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