A New Jerusalem
in memoriam D.H.C. Hughes 1924-1979
Your mother rattled in whisky sodas.
Above the fire a print of the Beagle
on Pacific swell, 1835;
a mantel of peaked caps and wedding veils,
your father on a beach in jacket and tie
(in the hand on your shoulder an unlit smoke ...)
We lounged in the white bungalow he built,
weighing our words in the tumblers as fire
performed its one trick over and over.
In a year of grief she wrote you sick notes
and let you lie on your back in the field,
student of the life of clouds and birdsong.
To the unwise they did appear to die,
their going looked like a disaster
their leaving us like annihilation ...
In one evening she cut back the high hedge
(like crowns of thorns by Graham Sutherland);
the air thick with the reek of wild garlic.
I drove east in a convoy of red lights,
The car a caravan of sleeping heads;
to the south, the brilliance of the steelworks –
the holy city coming down from God
walls glittering like crystal-clear diamonds
a city of pure gold, like polished glass
lives grouped around the glare of furnaces,
the hwyl of bitter chapel mornings;
fields of rugby posts’ raised white arms.
In the sandy carpark surfers rolled on
wet suits, their bony torsos pimpling
in a stiff westerly, car stereos
redundant in the ravelling daylight.
Progress out of the shallows was slow:
belly-down on white boards, stick-arms rowing
like creatures ill-evolved (our type for those
who persevere in uncertain hope of bliss ...)
One wobbled to his feet, only to fall.
One hung on, unable to go further.
Another hunkered down, drew breath, then was up
until the wave tired and shrugged him off
in a downfall of spume and angled limbs.
With high tide encroaching on the pebbles
they waded in, privately exultant,
to souped-up cars, their own shivering skin.
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