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Click to enlarge picture Click to enlarge picture. Four Poems
by
Sheenagh Pugh


 

 



Liverpool Alexandria

If they had stayed in Liverpool,
if the business had prospered… They say
he spoke Greek, all his days, with that edge
of strangeness.

It was a seaport, after all,
like the other: he could have followed
his fancies down different streets, loitered
in Victorian pubs heavy with gilt and brass
instead of the pavement cafes.

It is not as if he were one for road names
or landmarks. His city was not made of weather,
knew no seasons. Its map was people: Cleopatra,
shop assistants, Coptic priests, Lefkios
and Iasis, flaneurs, emperors, debauchees,
all crowding in, on every corner an Antony.

It could have worked, in that city of Welsh chapels
and Chinatown, that importer of languages.
He could have written the epitaphs of so many:
slaves, sailors, emigrants, chancers, young men
going to seed… it would have been just like home,
would have become home.

A life mapped out in one city, he said,
would follow the same contours anywhere:
we'd have had him, the quiet stroller,
bringing folk in the Walker back to life,
haunting the Philharmonic, locking eyes
with lounging shadows in Gibraltar Place. Already
he'd made the odd poem in English; soon enough
it would have become his music, shaped his thought,
even if he spoke it, always, with a Greek lilt.



Ronald
(Lord Cardigan's horse)

Ronald galloped
to where the noise came from,
then back again.

They always want you to go
toward the noise.
Mostly, more come back.

Some horses break,
lie screaming, thrashing
in the smell of blood.

Or their man breaks
and they stay by him,
nuzzling his face.

Ronald came back,
like one in six,
he lived to be old.

When his man broke,
Ronald was to walk
behind the coffin

but stepping so slow
and with no man
set him on edge

and the laudanum
they used to calm him
made him doze off

(against a wall,
let's hope, like Marvin's horse
in Cat Ballou).

Someone sounded
the cavalry charge
in his old ear: it pricked,

and he paced with the guns,
the music, left his man lying
and came back.



In the Land of the Dead
CREON: The good and the bad are not equally deserving.
ANTIGONE: Who knows? In the land of the dead they may be.
     Sophocles: Antigone


Now and then, a mind turns a corner
or tops a hill, and the view is what
it never dreamed of, the world so other,

it is thrown off course, can't see straight,
or rather, it sees for the first time
that straight is not what it had thought.

Walls and horizons, nothing is plumb
but all aslant. It is how the girl sees,
for a moment, past the narrow room

where we step round each other, set laws
to ease our time together. It is sound:
it renders our life civil. But her eyes

have opened on the endless land beyond,
with its soaring valleys, its plunging mountains,
its lack of signs and frontiers: the land
where all the maps are to draw again.



In the Town of N

a gentleman, for the moment nameless,
alights, with dusk falling, at the inn,
where the host quite fails to recognise
a three-volume picaresque in train,

though his daughter, sensing destiny
at the door, rehearses the blushing speech
she won’t need when the Enigmatic Lady
arrives, in a drift of scent, by next week's coach.

The –shire Regiment is giving a ball
meanwhile, at the town's assembly rooms.
Tradesmen will go unpaid; some foolish girl
will elope from a dull and decent home

when they march. The gentleman will prove
to be Lord L– under a false name.
Someone will die; someone will fall in love.
After "Finis", nothing will be the same

except the town of N, settling once more
to normal, nowhere, nondescript: this town
that sleeps between marbled end-papers,
waiting for the next story to happen.