The Green Man
The Walbrook, rising, heaving still,
has coated piles of ragstone bones
with sticky sterling-silver silt. Its banks
are lined with network rushes;
ranks of bundled reedy flutes; acanthus,
curling, stiffened. Fat-hen, crowfoot, hemlock,
sharp as Mappin cutlery and square-set,
barred and filtering and purposefully
prising out the layered lime and fortune sediment.
Paying, easing, paying still:
this for Mithras, that for Queen Victoria.
Falstaff, shirt-sleeves folded up – a clash
of pink and orange, angled P&O geometries –
is holding forth, a steaming pin-stripe liner.
He sits beside his funnel, round and bull-flanked,
gravy-greased and gouty. Former glories
in the field have made his reputation;
ribald tales of power lunches, credit and Canary wine
confirm his wit, although the years of talk and speculation
(dubiously cured, hung for taste) have left him
out-of-date and oddly-humoured.
Finance, Harvard-slick and slackened,
wireless and almost waxy,
slurs another wine-glass clean
as Falstaff lolls, all heavy-sacked,
one, the old and lolling lard,
the nineteen-eighties Riot;
one, the other, glimmer grey,
belies their common age
this Finance, slurring glass
and aluminium, aluminum,
will rise and watch and glimmer still
in youth and wirelessly sparkle
ever younger; watch him straighten, shimmer,
face old Falstaff,
and take him by the nostrils.
Fingers rest on the stony vein:
chill calloused, smooth and
shhhhhhhhhhhhhh lad —
Chisel-edge and pick-tip bite
and clash and clatter, cutting-in diagonals
and zig-zag seams. What rhythm!
Hymns and harsh percussion counter dole-down bass
as Durham’s mighty columns meter out,
as regular as winding-work,
their partially-remembered years.
The plastic model which I buy,
which fits that shape, and, painted well,
deceives the eye, is lacking its true weight:
form without the blows that formed it;
form abstracted from the form;
form-hollow, leaking sand.
Liberty comes – loose-tongued,
limber-legged, lithe in black.
She moves to a breakbeat,
smooth against a matted mass of ivy,
writhing, limb through limb,
to find an ear – twisting in
to near-whisper Jack, awake!
Waken tetraplegic Jack, thin Jack.
She plucks a catkin,
scrapes at honeysuckle sap
and senses movement:
a twitch, a splitting bur.
She picks at stems, tender
trilling as she concentrates,
pulling to a tone,
turning sharp to strip
resistance from the gnarliest,
the ancient-most of parts,
pitching up, up, aaaaeeeeeeee
unrestrained, the man is fitting violently,
freed within a storm of flitting foliage,
oh flung so fast as to be lost in substance –
nothing left but hue and tone and howling, hurtling geometry.
As featured on the music video for Angel Wharf by Drew Worthley, on Massive Arms Records.
Drew asked me to contribute a poem to one of the films made for his remarkable album CRUCIBLE. His song Angel Wharf was inspired by a nostalgic night walk down the Thames, which seemed to tie in nicely with my ongoing series of works based around the history of the hidden river Walbrook.
From the ghosts of the Steelyard to the stars over Bermondsey…