Excerpts from LONDON BRIDE




Greenwich Reach. From zero
eastward the chestnut kestrel
bombarded by a swerve of pigeons
off the pier's roof goes
over the river. At Deptford,
levellers, diggers; Drake
the circumnavigator's knighted
and C. Marlowe's eye
there later that evening
dagged deep. (A spy?)
On the Isle of Dogs
the bronze and grey shell-
gleam of the empty pyramid,
basalt and mineral glass
tomb for no king
sealed in gold, forcing
away the chopped water
from its base. The yacht,
goosewinged, not following
further, the river leans
on brine, crammed, swallows
the sea-wind past
Superb Flats where guns,
oil and grain were winched
and Confucians, Jews and Protestants
walked ashore. A Chef
& Brewer's very half-
timbered nose had piracy
staked on the silt beneath,
to be sucked like a chicken-bone,
broth seeping over the collar,

the nostril, the dog-long
tongue lapping its human
pollutant. Paul looks
bareheaded down the steps
at black casements across the stream.
Troglodytes troglodytes
the builder vigilant, stone
floating up past the Tower,
Traitor's Gate no
gate at all a slimed
wall, ice cream.
Capped muzzles doze
under awnings on Belfast.
Under the Gothic machine,
the Pool museum, parked
steamers, Alexandra's
red floral columns
hold down the bed between bridges,
Blackfriars railway and road.
No fish for sale
at Billingsgate nor boats
for hire by the New Globe's
concrete base. While women
worked in the cradles under marching
arches on Waterloo,
Berlin fell. Neptune
hangs his beard on the line
between Cities. Beyond
the Nile victor's needle
wastes grain by grain
into the sweet Thames

Sand of the Thames

The sand of the Thames is a fine,
fur-coloured sand, in beaches a stride
or two wide, below the high-water lines;
deep wads in which the heels sink
fringing the mud, the rubble
and tar-black misshapen shoe-soles
more generally strewn on the shore.

Diligent encyclopaedia, the current
sorts its content somehow: over a few yards
the shards of crockery, fronds and crests,
a tea-cup handle are most collected.
Nearby are the knee-joints of cows,
porous cones of marrowbone,
a medley of chipped brick, pipe and tile.

Incoherent plastics mingle with the flint
strap, clip, top, flat bottles, half a toy
then for ten further steps, driftwood drying,
planks and ply, with sticks
and oddments of branches. A bed, barely,
a bolster of chalk juts out
and the bank beyond is coated in sea-coal.

And here, under the embankment wall
whose weed, raked by the low sun,
shines a jewel-like and startling green,
 the river has hoarded its finest materials.
The sand has no inkling of life,
tatters of wrack, cockleshell, papery claw,
but is London milled to its conclusion.

One handful comprehends history.
The grains are greyish, lenticular, anonymous,
softly heaped in a pocket resort
ignored by the people whose feet,
as numerous as these, pass overhead.
Now through that press, at last,
I can feel my way by a thread,

the wide stream stringing its debris,
running low, showing the shoals
that ridge it, or full and glittering,
within a hand's reach, seemingly,
pulsive, restless steel;
can find the place to heal, and sanctuary
which tides accumulate and cancel.


catastrophes, entertainments

          a shower of sparks

she picks her way across the littoral junk
          dead shoe soles
seeming more charred than drowned
the inch lengths of clay stem and
          oyster shells
the pearls that have been, that now are bones
          and echoes

ashes of the festival faded over the marsh

as though I saw through time
the face she had as a child
when ways were equal, without degree
my eyes went hungry to meet her eyes

diesel sucking the morning's grey
          drags us to our stop
the foam of every ocean laps the kerb

          once The Cut
had an accent quite distinct
to the late Fred Stringfellow, piano tuner
          almost blind from birth

at 3am the long blue streets
          are empty like the sea
          one by one
the cars are carried away on their own sound

          and one mindful satellite
          and the fox
that leaves no wake in the sleep of the city
          pass over stars
          and under

          a needle
to quilt the time in which we dream

and in solution, voices
precipitate, then drift to silence
a battleground founds the settlement

          I was looking
said the policeman in the voice of a plaintive child
in the frigid noon of the midnight shop
          for a Pot Noodle

body armour on his belly
          the eons
have the nature of water which nothing withstands

          I alone am aimless and depressed
          said Lao Tzu

          as some old Asian makes his bed
          of litter among the litter
on the New Kent Road near Speedo Pizza
it does not seem the way to a land of apples

          When nothing is done, he said
          nothing is left undone

    1ohn Gibbens 2015