Two Poems

James Lasdun

General McClellan

Pride, questioner, and pride’s obverse, fear;
Fear of failure. The Times of London
Noted my Air of Success. Our grand
Potomac army loved me as I’d planned.
I was Napoleon. I snubbed Lincoln.
Think if I’d obeyed him: one swift strike,
Rebellion over, slavery intact,
Oneself in office ... I couldn’t act.
What if I should fail? My ranks
Glistened like the river in its banks;
Beautiful, swollen to bursting ... I held them back,
Fattening like a calf for Lee’s attack.
Now freedom that couldn’t use me as a spear
Rises on my inertia like a jack.


Spooling like a depression,
Blinder with every block to the littered green,
The High Street stitches a psychic
Winter out of your footsteps’
Proserpinal return.

Ailing too long
The body at last desists
From craving or even wanting back its once
Healthy complexion and pink tongue.
Who needs to die twice over?
Leave us our stricken streets.

‘– Am black because
The sun hath looked upon me –’
Where was that brother? Not in this town surely;
Here where the damp blooms swastikas
And a beer can held to the ear
Whispers fuck off and die;

Where the banked crates
Outside the Carib grocer
Hold their shrivelled chillies and fibrous ginger,
Frost-rotted peppers and starfruits
Like a disintegrating
Memory of fire,

And the fume-browned
Lantern cover of heaven
Hides neither a friendly nor a vicious grin,
Transstellar paradise pearl-veined,
Nor Southern Cross: just circling
Planes, a salt beach of moon.