Tuesday 15 April 2008

Trajectories by Alan Baker

Arriving by bus in a strange city

Waking in a room
with open curtains
on an indeterminate day

Rooftops gleam in morning light
like difficult decisions

A zone of newly-constructed space
through which adjacent lives might glimpse
a primary school class in 1966
round the piano, singing
'Drink to me only with thine eyes'

Jove's nectar must have been
what my father drank
in brown bottles by the fire and telly,
a tiny silhouette of the Tyne Bridge
on its label


The strange city
becomes accustomed to my eyes,
its trajectory of optimism
takes me to political theory
and the price of coffee in Derby,
where the railways lurk
like Banquo's ghost
at the feast
of business parks
link roads, junctions
airport runways

And I heard it, on TV
after the Hatfield train crash:
The head of the rail network
emerging from a meeting with fellow directors to tell the press:
'we've been thinking unthinkable thoughts'


Fox droppings, fleece on fenceposts,
beyond the field, in mist,
a road hums
with unanswerable knowledge
and bids us be on our way
while it attends to
encroaching cigarette butts
and men with tape measures

The attitudes of harm
are omnipresent,
life as a series of events, some connected,
and the world a theory, waiting to be proved.
 But let's get on with it, you say:
your life
or lives
from 'collateral damage: the movie'
to lists of Jews
to the evening news
and Bethlehem under siege
a front-door shuts
a car passes,
a kettle is filled,
conversation downstairs
and outside the window
tree-lined boulevards lead into spring
advancing sunlight reflects
a rise in the Dow Jones
0% finance
and everything Made In China


Speak to me only with thine eyes
thy lips, thy tongue, thy body
and that voice

I need that voice
like the world needs love

faced with CO2 emissions
and rising seas
I need
a kiss
a cup
and some kind of nectar


Forgotten hopes sidle up
like homeless people
we spare some change for

How long will it be like this?
the ratios of empowerment
bending the odds
spring sunlight jamming the frequencies
air everywhere fair, or might be
And I was therewhen the leather struck the netting
like a speculator opening an account
a blow-by-blow account
of how the world was won
to roars of 'Howay the lads'
as the crowd pours out of the ground
(so many, I had not thought Sunderland had undone so many)
scarves against the cold, beery breath,
winter lights on the ferry
where latecomers watch replays of missed penalties
ghosts of keelboats haul their coal,
and the Captains of Industry think unthinkable thoughts


Along the line of the valley
between Castle Rock and the Trent:
the railway, canal, factories,
once lacework, female labour,
depots and offices designed,
in the seventies
blues clubs and reggae,
and from this vantage
hindsight underestimates


Early evening
cannabis smoke drifts above the festival
stagestruck songbirds singing in the dimness
and the world is full of children,
some of them grey-haired and stooping

A big drag, and then it happened,
the road shining, trees bowing as we passed:
   the new Mazda 20v 1.8ltr 4WD with sunroof 

   because you care about your car 


I like the way you walk
 I like the way you walk
into my life
each day
like someone else's taste in music
their radio playing
'My Baby Wrote Me a Letter'
despatched by night mail
to a dawn platform,
where passenger trains arrive
at a world full of children
each contingent
upon each other
or so the language can say
in its brighter moments
among the jingles and slogans
realised as what words are for

 If you drink to me only with those eyes
I'll take the pledge with mine
O quench that thirst
it's from soul, the heart and soul

Get me a ticket for an aeroplane
an intercity bus, a fast train


Out across the midlands, low hills
motorways and lines of pylons, the airport
and its destinations, hitchikers at the junction
collateral and contingent,
their questions worn like new clothes
doled out to Jarrow marchers

Egg and sausage at the truckers cafe,
strong tea, and we're ready to set out


Alan Baker is the editor of Leafe Press, a publisher of innovative and left-field poetry based in Nottingham. Some of his other poems can be read online at Shearsman and Great Works.

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