Tag Archives: Summer

The Race

The Race

The clocks have been changed
The days stay longer
In their place
Already
I am losing pace

The year begins
To tighten screws
Already
I begin to lose

A quarter of this year
Has gone
The year to me
Hardly begun

No matter
How I come and go
How I struggle
Toe to toe

No matter
How hard I try
To reconcile
To live and die

No matter
How to allay fear
To harmonise
The speeding year

No matter
How it’s dressed in rhyme
Already lost
The race with time

The Easter weekend always comes, to me, as a kind of marking-post in the year.  Winter is over, we are now in the middle of Spring, with Summer fast approaching.  I’m sure it must be a phenomena common to a lot of people, but, as I head towards my late sixties, I seem to be astonished, year after year, by how speedily the year seems to be passing.  I started having the first thoughts about a poem on the subject when we changed the clocks a few weeks ago, to mark the change from GMT to BST, and “The Race” is the final result. 

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Cathedral Square

CATHEDRAL SQUARE:

Cathedral Square, in summertime glow;
fountains and children provide the show.
The cathedral, nearby, just part of the view;
with slender spires puncturing the blue.

Surging fountains spatter and spray;
children enticed to unfettered play.
Whimsical, as life, fountains fascinate.
Spontaneous, wilful, they tease, frustrate.

Small children laugh, scream with delight;
run forward, boldly, back-off with fright.
People sit on benches, take in the sights,
think back to a time when they still could be
as these children are: innocent and free.

Sun-worshippers sit idly, frazzling their skins;
brainier pigeons shower their wings.
Others seem less at ease in the heat;
shifting, nervously, in their seats,

fancying they hear the haunting “tick-tock”,
the hurrying hands of the Guildhall clock.
In the back of their minds, unsettling truth:
that brief burst of glory, evanescence of youth.

“Cathedral Square” is a poem inspired by the real Cathedral Square, in Peterborough (i.e. Cambridgeshire, UK), where I live.  It is a kind of companion-piece to an earlier poem “Sun-Salutation”, which I wrote about the other prominent square in Peterborough, Laxton Square.  Both squares are situated adjacent to Peterborough’s famous cathedral, yet they have completely different atmospheres and identities, which are – somewhat ironically – nothing to do with the cathedral itself.

 

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Sun-Salutation

As we approach Christmas, with the weather becoming inexorably chillier and more wintry, this post takes a fond look back at the height of the summer.

I’ve never been much of a “sun-worshipper”, but last summer was exceptionally hot and sunny, and I spent quite a few leisurely lunchtimes “soaking up the rays”.  My poem “Sun-Salutation” was inspired by – and describes – a particular location, in the city where I’ve lived for the last twenty-five years.  Although the location is specific, the activities I observed there are, I’m sure, enacted in towns and cities throughout the world.  The juxtaposition of a busy market-place and a beautiful cathedral generated my reflections at the end of the poem.

Sun Salutation: (Heat-Wave, July 2013):

At Laxton Square, a pattern of stones
radiates out, in concentric circles,
like rings around a planet,
at a slight incline, from a central grate.

Here, the Helios-worshippers gather,
sitting on metal benches, at the perimeter.
You can spit, you can shout, let it all hang out.
You can slurp a skinful of scrumpy.
All is permitted, in this transitory temple.

Stunned into submission, by savage rays from above,
The worshippers settle in, to a slow
annihilation of the senses.
Sitting, sweating, staring into blue nothingness.
Skin burning, browning, nicely crisping.
All thoughts and feelings oozing, trickling,
sucked into the oblivion of the central grate.
Minds becoming as blank as the blue vastness above.

From the Identity and Passport Offices, close by,
workers emerge, blinking, dazzled by brightness;
anxious to spend their precious lunch hours
submerging identities, in salutation
to the omnivorous power of the
merciless, monstrous orb in the sky.

On one side of the square, market stalls
seethe and thrive, as minions minister
to the worshippers of Mammon.
On the other side of the square stands
the cathedral, hidden by office buildings.

Overwhelmed by these faiths: Helios and Mammon
–       which are vapid, valueless, misbegotten –
its own servants now seen as corrupt and rotten,
the cathedral seems forlorn, subdued,
entirely forgotten.

 

 

 

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Summer Twilight on the Street

I closed my front door, and started walking along the street, intending to do some local shopping.  I heard a man’s voice, shouting something indecipherable, and, looking across the street, saw a couple of men on top of a ladder, doing some work on one of the roofs.  I suddenly realised they were addressing me, so came to a halt, gazing in their direction.  The man then repeated what he’d originally said to me: “Are we in England, mate?”  I had no problems in hearing him, this time, but the meaning of his question still eluded me.  I stared at him, shrugging my shoulders.  “Is this England?” he then said, pointing in the direction of a group of young Asian women in brightly-coloured saris, who were chattering and laughing – “. . . ‘cos it don’t sound like it!” the man concluded.  Finally getting his point, I shrugged again, made some anodyne comment like “Oh, you get used to it” and walked on.

I happen to live on quite an interesting street: St. Martin’s Street, in Peterborough.  It’s a fairly innocuous-looking street, in a working-class area, with a lot of ageing terraced houses; what makes it interesting is the constantly-shifting nature of the populace.  I was thinking about listing the nationalities concerned, but, as it would be a virtually endless list, it’s easier to simplify it as mainly immigrants from Asia and Eastern Europe.  I hasten to point out that – unlike the man on the roof – I have no problems with this at all, and find it an enlivening factor of living on the street.  When you add to this mix of population such elements as drugs, alcohol and a lack of available employment, you get an atmosphere that many could see as “unsavoury”, but I find intriguing and invigorating.  The introduction of bollards, halfway along the street, a few years ago, made a big, positive difference.  Prior to the bollards, the street was plagued by the intrusion of cars, speeding along, using it as a short-cut.  The introduction of the bollards transformed the street, turning it into virtually a pedestrian precinct – a place free for all to stroll and walk at their leisure.

Watching the passers-by, a few evenings ago, I started feeling nostalgic, at the ending of a glorious Summer; and my poem “Summer Twilight on The Street” is the result.

SUMMER TWILIGHT ON THE STREET:

White candyfloss drifts in pellucid blue sky.
Evening sunlight falls, as Summer ends,
on the street.

Gentle breeze flutters the white moustache
of an elderly sikh, cycling slowly,
magisterially, down the centre
of the street; fusing the stresses
and strains of this eventful season
into his calm visage.

Two Italian women argue volubly,
elegantly dressed, as if for
a Passagato Milanese.  Sun flares
off the silver nose stud of an Asian
woman in a shimmering sari.

A grey-bearded man, in robes
and fez, paces thoughtfully.
A skinhead in shorts marches
urgently, carrier-bags bristling
with clinking, jostling cans.

Two stocky Oriental youths,
hyper with MSG, stride past
a Polish woman cleaning her car.
Her small blonde daughter
is on a tricycle, cycling
an endless orbit around the car.

Another Summer slips by; Summer on the street.
Front doors succumbing, Police shields glinting.
Doorstep-sitting, cider-fizz-swigging,
bare feet padding, young lovers kissing.
Endless evenings of blissful blue sky;
comings and goings, neighbours, passers-by.
Kids trudging to school, then merrily returning;
enervating heat, pallid skins burning.
Shouting, spitting, drinking, eating.
Life on the street; transitory, fleeting.
And so it goes on; new sights, new sounds.
The girl on the tricycle goes round and round.
Round and round she goes; round and round . . .

 

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There Are Times

One of the many things poetry can do is to capture a fleeting moment.  It could be an instant reaction to something seen, or heard; a sudden perception, a passing thought. . .  Whatever it is, if it had a significant impact, you tend to mull it over, to meditate upon it, and this process can sometimes result in a poem.  A good recent example of this type of poem is “A Butterfly in the British Museum” by Kelly Grovier.  He has since written that this poem “. . . stems from an actual sighting – the fleetingest of glimpses amid the crush of visitors entering the museum of what I could swear was a small blue butterfly clinging to the sleeve of a little girl”.  He goes on to mention that he was: “Vaguely aware of classical notions attaching to butterflies as symbols of the soul”.

My poem “There Are Times” is an attempt to capture the thoughts and feelings I experienced one evening – just a few weeks ago – at the end of the most wonderful summer we’ve had for a long time.  The fact that butterflies figure significantly in the poem is partly coincidental – I happened to see a few as I glanced out of the window, and there have been many more white butterflies around than normal, this summer – but I admit that Kelly Grovier’s poem was probably also floating around in my unconscious mind.

THERE ARE TIMES:

There are times like this, you see; there are times. . .

You look out, at a summer evening’s blue sky;
reflect on a rhapsodic day gone by.
A frisky fluttering of white butterflies
adorns green hedgerows, embroiders the skies.

A butterfly’s life –  evanescent, so brief –
but is there a need for sorrow, for grief?
This is existence; its flux and its flow.
Take it, as it is; as it comes and it goes.

What if it were now – all of it – to cease?
What if time, itself, were suddenly to freeze?
Temporal duration?  The will to survive?
All you know, now, is you are here, alive.

J.S. Bach, right now, caressing your ears;
directing attention to music of the spheres.
J.S. Bach, riffing on the same vibe:
the eternal, compressed into musical line.
The eternal, caught, somehow, in this light;
seen, in a fluttering butterfly’s flight.

This is your life; this is what it has meant.
All you’ve imagined, all you have dreamt.
All you’ve experienced, all you have lost.
The values you’ve learned, the suffering, the cost.

And you think: this is it?  Whatever!  Oh, well.
You don’t believe in a Heaven or Hell.
As massy-leaved trees wave gently, in the breeze,
You would settle for this; for moments like these.

There are times like this, you see; there are times.
Times like this, oh yes; there are times. . .

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