Three Poems

Jamie McKendrick

Vocations

Rosary, pillar, garden, assumption, solitude:
the five Marías you and your sisters make,
distinguished by the vocations of the Virgin.

Amongst you all resemblance hides
in posture, gesture, hand or voice
like a vein of dusky mauve –

tint of the five figs that Frederic Amat,
the Catalan artist as a young man,
at home with colour and conjugations,

slyly portrayed the group of you as
– now hung among the oak-framed monochrome engravings
showing the Napoleonic light infantry

in a series of peninsular engagements.
The others settled in Bilbao, Madrid, or stayed
within earshot of the calle Aragón,

and you – por suerte – here, still here
where the potted fig, its first fruits stricken,
makes the most of what light there is,

blue guest of the early frost.

www.prisontours.com

Also worth a visit is the Habsburg
fortress and prison, hrad Spilberk
with its cavernous moat
and the lightless casemates
in which many inmates
died from cold, victims of the climate.

 A permanent exhibition
displays some now outmoded
instruments for the restraint
of the unruly, notably
1) the Spanish Boot
(click to enlarge the illustration)
which by cranking the iron key
was able to exert
enormous pressure,
peine forte et dure’,
on the bones of the foot,
and 2) an ingenious
branding stylus that wrote
R for REGULATUS
in the flesh of those
brought to order.

Plus some memorabilia
from when the Gestapo took over.

Given sensible footwear,
it’s not too hard or far
to walk from námestí Svoboda
(Freedom Square)
to this historic incarceration
facility, known throughout the Empire
as the ‘Prison of the Nations’.

Old Pointy

Drabbest of all the obelisks
is the red granite needle erected
in Sefton Park for Samuel Smith
cotton broker and philanthropist
by the firm Willink & Thicknesse
once linked to the statue of Eros
by a long avenue of elms almost
the first in Britain to be afflicted
by a new strain of fungus spores
Ophiostoma novo-ulmi brought
by their vectors the bark beetles
into brooding galleries of xylem
so that vista’s not at all the same
as when I played here as a kid
or when my granddad used to sail
toy boats on the ornamental lake
designed by a Monsieur André
who’d turned the municipal dump
of Buttes-Chaumont into a park
– but the obelisk’s still vertical
although the worse for wear now
its inscriptions are boarded-up
and both its drinking fountains
have run dry and the brass taps
they had have been sawn off –
which rather overtasks the point
of the biblical quote above them
to the effect that earthly water
will only briefly quench your thirst
whereas eternal water is forever
but this stone’s lasted quite as well
as the octagonal pink granite base
of the Palm House in the distance
– courtesy of the Isle of Mull –
which survived a bomb in the Blitz
when all the glass panes were broken
despite being painted a leafy green
with artful paths across the dome …
nothing seems to have burrowed in
depositing fleecy pale grey spores
and though it lacks some of the
grandeur of Axum or of Karnak
it gets a mention of a line or two
in the architectural guide-book
which may well have been scraping the barrel.