ANTHEM FOR A LOST CAUSE/
PORTRAIT OF THE
ARTIST IN THE NUCLEAR AGE
no setting sun prisming like tears on dust-burnished greaves,
just you and I, Victoria, looking out over Hull.
No valiant but thwarted crusades amid crenelated tombstone towers,
no knowing smile from the lips of weathered comrades,
just you with your stony gaze
on your pedestal of stone above the toilets.
White darkness negates all things positive
from the docks to the empty desolate warehouse,
purity violated by love and left distraught
outside pubs at ten thirty, while
here I sit like Zeus before Olympus,
with my ideals, books and poetry,
you with your potted shrubs, stone loins and toilet cleaners,
and which of us the wiser?
Retinal images of rods and cones, lost in fleeting wraiths,
dimly remembered, perhaps rediscovered when least expected,
then cherished momentarily before they dissolve again,
Letters engraved on the sky
ask the leaders why. Defy. Decry.
But the vowels tarnish, the consonants crumble
as ivy encircled their x-height, filling in their eyes,
So we’re alike, Victoria.
Your stone gaze beholds your empire,
my mind embraces the pieces of my own.
For I fought side by side with Leonidas
at the pass at Thermopylae,
I the only survivor.
For I watched the maidens of Crete
flaunting before the bulls.
I stood beside Horatius on the bridge
saving the lays of ancient Rome.
I retied the Gordian knot.
I fought with John Carter, Warlord of Mars,
shoulder to shoulder beneath the twin moons.
It was I who wept for Atlantis,
but the tears dried
and Delphi became dumb.
Odysseus returned to Ithaca,
and I, the only survivor,
look out over Hull,
in elevated company…
This was not only the first poem I ever wrote, but the first thing I had published – in ‘Sad Traffic no.5’, May 1971. When poetry editor Pete Lancaster explained to me why he’d accepted the poem, he told me it was because he liked the line-lengths, which was a little deflating. Nevertheless, this acceptance can be held directly responsible for everything that has come along since…!