The Gaping Gulf

Mark Ford

Cloud-capped, deserted, building and building site
Exchange whispers and winks. I glide half-
Asleep down the alley between them, as if
Adrift on some superannuated schooner. Nearby, on another
Kind of scaffold, John Stubbs gallantly raised his hat to the cheering crowd
With his left hand, and blessed the Queen, while her
Executioner held aloft his right.
                           Then he fainted. I’ve the taste
Of azure and wind in my mouth, and flecks
Of soot and dust in my hair. I think
Of all those on the verge of fainting
Today – teachers and alcoholics, long-distance runners, Tokyo-bound
Commuters crushed rib to rib. Their lungs
Wheeze and labour, and would rest; they need
A cold compress, a caressing breeze, some
Respite from the rattling drone of dried peas
In the inner ear. Ruminating, renouncing
Word after spellbound word, the alphabet looms like twenty-six
Patient camels on the horizon, then breaks
In half between the letters m and n, burdened
By too much grit and rubble
And sand . . . Look! A sand-
Coloured lizard is disappearing through a hair-fine
Crack in the wall just above the wireless, as one gropes
For the dates of the reign of Henry
The Navigator, or Philip the Second
Of Spain. Dusk
Descends here like a thrown cloak, coarse, thick, almost suffocating,
Alive with inexplicable sounds. Was that
A distressed owl, or the harsh bark
Of a disease-bearing fox? What bothered who- or what-
Ever cried? – distant thunder vexing the dim
Hyades, or breadfruit upon breadfruit thudding
To earth?
         The gulf
Between a bleeding wrist and the breadfruit-crowned
Adventures of the current Order
Of the British Empire, is fast receding into the dark
Back of time. My father (born October, 1934, died
The last day of May, 2007) kept his medal in a safe
Cleverly hidden in the utility room.
The institutions that formed him, bade him don
A tin hat at Suez, shimmer like elegant, gauzy backdrops
Floating down from the flies. He wept
Rarely, ate powdered egg through gritted teeth
As a child, believed in the beneficent
Stride of progress. ‘Who
Would true valour see,’ we sang at the crematorium, ‘Let him
Come hither.’