|Anne Born and Alex Smith
1998. 75 pp. ISBN-13 978-3-7052-0159-0; ISBN-10 3-7052-0159-X
In 1995, two poets with a passion for the subject decided to make a sweep of English history. It would be regarded through
the eyes of both real and invented characters, on whom we eavesdropped through a time-travelling spy hole. The method
offers views of each century or period, showing events experienced chiefly from the sidelines.
Anne Born and Alex Smith
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Excerpts from Histories
Ox Carts at the Ford
Thames - he had heard the name
as he walked this new land
after the rack of a sea voyage,
trudged tracks over chalk, slept
on the earth with one companion brother.
At the ford in a hill-rimmed bowl
of green, he sits near the river,
sees fritillaries lean to the winds.
Here is level land, easy to clear.
He rests under an oak. A blackbird intones.
Beside him a tower builds,
gold stone like his sunlit south,
another nearby, roofs, windows,
He hears plainsong rise above blackbird's.
Books arrive on ox carts
for libraries. 6000000 books
to stack above and below
a quadrangle's ground, windows lit
with candlepower that circles
each letter, page and hand.
Later a clatter of plates
clashes with bells that call
from chapels to study and prayer.
Then a feral chorus yells
to jolt him out of the scene,
an uglier sound of dispute,
like philosopher's discourse
of raging divinity schools.
Splatters of hate and blood
stain sandstone halls.
The shout of the future fades.
His foot comes to rest on a stone
that blooms yellow. The river
lulls through his dream, flows like learning,
runs on away and out of his time.
All is green in the dusk of the station.
I am back from the city weather,
its clouds of skin and bone
raining showers of thought,
its fat cats greased with gold
and lean birds blue with cold.
Trees give me breath for the road
to drive alone, released
from the crushed and poisoned queue,
to curve corners, rise and fall
slung by the gale, peppered by hail,
rocked by the boat of the moon.
I'll be back in the city, anon,
hammering out some meanings,
tube-riding with unknown shades
whose black and blue china eyes
can turn green if challenged with smile
or white with murderous scowl.
I'll hear songs in the tunnel's draught
against screams of the torn-apart child,
know virtue engendered by grief
for the death of a dicing princess,
research the long story of words
in the seconds the century holds.
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