Yes, The Maternity Unit

Tom Paulin

In a middling hour, Wednesday’s raw afternoon
     of kitchen buildings and a green pitch,
  my autopod smooths along a metalled slant
       between beds of tame juniper.

A geometry of poplars sifts in the wind,
    their tight theorem almost surprised
  as it fences ten flat playing-fields
      on the sour edge of town.

The thin trunks level out in a zero air
     to a plumed stillness: corporation railings
 or the fixed bayonet of a sentry
       erect at a border-post.

This is that secular republic of observations,
     its pedestrian optics a stick trilled
  by a careless boy along stiff kinetic spikes
       that line a public space.

Bored by enclosures, he machines a burst of fire
    in the strumming light, sighting discipline
  on the horizon, like the idea of barracks.
      By his rippling fence

I pop the question again: can this nissen plain,
     this Fifties boredom by a dual carriageway,
  really be a poetic? Must every civic
      eye unpeel

identical versions of the same damned spot?
     How can a row of poplars on a green field,
  limed rectangles and a railway line
       stretched tight across

a listless hinterland scutched with canals
      – how can this straight-and-narrow ground be changed
   by some brisk buffer with a skill? Tell me this,
        yes tell me this.

                      *

limp king dick has got the chop
but Quim and Bum must slog it out
like two bloodied armies –
oh that intimate close combat
of knees blades and buggering spikes!
as, straining in its slimy burrow,
a knotted fisty-face punches
out of their racking scrum:
wet-thatched, a spiky tuft,
a red red urchin,
its first cry is the cry
of a drenched starling
that splinters, crack-splinters like a light-switch!

                      *

Behind sealed windows
each tiny grub must yell
inside a plastic cell,
be topped and tailed
before its feed
and with a goldfish mouth
gnaw the embossed nipple
on a tender shield,
until, heavy-headed,
a clubbed frown,
it contemplates the wind
and blurps a verdict.

Then a milky sleep will come
– pure, unembellished,
a cotton being
within the domed baroque
of azure gilt and swirling putti,
a tide of tufty-tails and yellow motions
that smell of warm fudge.

It breaks and changes
to a beetroot scream with flipper limbs,
a ringing tone
that pumps the suburb to a strange balloon.

                      *

Villas and boxed gardens,
lawns, stretched canvas,
a civil grid of plane trees,
then boredom, grey flannel
and the terror of light verse,
till it happens as the Sabbath dream
of that most gentle and retired
customs official who brushed aside
the brass buttons on his blue dolman.
Now the wires sag between their thickened poles
and a zinc tune hums
in mugs of veined porcelain,
as a brown train chunters
past a tulip farm
where buds wax
to a drift of sperm
before each bloom
turns to the feeding sun
and gapes like a scaldy –

speak, speak, wee yahweh,
from out your sleepy Egypt.