Monthly Archives: June 2013

Lunch atop a Skyscraper

It was my violent reaction to coming across the famous photograph in a newspaper that inspired the following poem.  I assumed that my symptoms could be categorised as fairly typical ones associated with vertigo, or fear of heights in a more general sense.  This, however, turned out not to be the case.  In fact, I could not find my symptoms listed anywhere, with reference to vertigo!  All the more reason, then, to try to describe them in the following poem:

LUNCH ATOP A SKYSCRAPER:

(A famous photograph, from 1932: eleven construction workers, sitting on a girder, 840 ft. above the New York City streets.  They are having their lunch break.  They eat from lunchboxes, smoke, joke, exchange gossip.  They seem blithely unaware that their feet are dangling into empty space; uncaring of the yawning abyss below them.)

“Ten green bottles, hanging on a wall.
Ten green bottles, hanging on a wall.
And if one green bottle should accidentally fall . . .”

Relaxing on a Sunday; idle, free.
Browsing through a newspaper; but when I see
the dizzying scene, my viscera responds.
Out of control; too urgent, too strong.
Spasms in the groin, surging up through the pit
of the stomach; down the back of the thighs.
Surging, rippling, again and again.
An aching, a chilling, a hollowing pain.

I am on the girder, heart pounding, hands feel
for a hold, but fail, scrabble, slip on cold steel.
A puff of wind, loss of balance; suddenly, I am gone.
Falling, plummeting through the air, like a stone.

Memory of a dream I have dreamt before?
Memory of a death I have died before?
Or is it the thing I fear even more.
Presentiment of a fate I cannot forestall:
the closure of life in a dying fall?

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Seagulls

For anyone unfamiliar with Whitby, it is a picturesque Yorkshire seaside town, famous for its associations with the great explorer Captain Cook and the author of “Dracula” Bram Stoker.  It also has atmospheric gothic abbey ruins, and many fish and chips shops, selling – probably – the most expensive fish and chips in the country.

My mother loved to visit Whitby, and, in her later years, my brother and I accompanied her on many day trips there.  All it took to create the poem “Seagulls” was for me to hear the shrieking of a seagull, whilst relaxing in a warm bath, a few weeks ago.  Immediately, memories of our visits to Whitby sprang to mind, and, as soon as I got out of the bath, I started writing . . .

SEAGULLS:

I remember Whitby, that last visit;
the wearying search for somewhere to sit.
The distant Abbey ruins, clawing at the sky.
The precious fish and chips; cost a fortune to buy.
This more precious old lady, her eccentric ways.
Her senses now failing, her absent gaze. . .
They fell on her; carnivores, sensing their prey.
Serious business, not “birdies at play”.
“Mum!  Don’t encourage them!  Stop it!  Please!”
Greasy batter, soggy chips, on the ground, on my knees.
Diving at speed, braking to land,
they swooped, remorseless; tore it from her hands. . .

I live alone now, in my castle, miles inland.
Far away from rocky inlets, claggy, sticky sand.
So something is wrong, for me now to hear
those piercing cries.  I’m shuddering with fear.
Why do they stalk me?  Why should it be?
Why am I haunted by these vultures of the sea?
The seasons are awry; officially, it’s spring.
But skies glower, snow falls and no birds sing.
Only these creatures, with their harrowing shrieks,
their hooked claws, cold eyes, sharp, rending beaks.
The world around me staggers, with a drunkard’s lurch.
They won’t eat me! I will knock them off their perch!

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