This rain, this unremitting stoical drench
that defined everything by fully soaking it
was now home. It was like living in a trench
in a war that never started. Men were smoking it
in offices through rain-blurred windows. They stood
in melancholy doorways, mentally stroking it
as you might a sodden dog. Rain was a hood
you wore in the street and took off once at home.
It was another name for England. It was the good
you lived by for months on end, that would come
on time like buses that once arrived don’t go.
This was childhood in winter, the proper medium
for study and squalor, into which you’d grow
like a plant into soil, putting down your roots.
Each shower was eternity, an endless flow
of sustenance and drowning. Pull on your boots,
wear your raincoat. It’s winter now forever.
It is time in one of its worn-out old suits,
that glorified gentleman inclined to shiver
and grumble. Meanwhile you watch the children run
through puddles, crossing streets and seeking cover
like something ending that has not begun.
Sometimes the whole place merges into grey:
lampposts, bollards, shop windows, buses, vanish
into a soup that’s neither night nor day
but blankness, like a face without a blemish,
a steamed-up mirror with a picture of nobody,
nothing but fog, nothing from start to finish.
The streets are soaked. Grass verges, slick and muddy,
are slush-filled pulp. You tread through clots
of thickening mist that seems to pulse and eddy
like the sea while tying itself in knots.
Where has everyone gone? Perhaps they’ve drowned,
or hidden in invisible dark slots
that won’t materialise until they’re found.
Then one appears, a vague form looming up
then swaying off, an apparition gowned
in fog, discolouration in a half-full cup
of forgotten tea. So spirits one by one
appear then fade at the point where things stop
being things. This then is the fabled London
of the novels, where everyone is lost
in stories that tail off, then carry on
without them, without echo, at no cost.
THE BIG FREEZE
To be so cold and out of sync, snowed in,
snowed out, trapped as if for ever, white
as if for ever, next to the paraffin
heater that stank of danger every night
was fun at first, then farce, then edge of doom
to watch it pile up, brilliant and bright
fading to brown, sky a permanent gloom.
It was history-as-present where we were
suspended in time, locked inside a room
with England covered, frozen in a blur
of swirling snow, all definition gone.
We were another country, made of fur
and language, with our woolly sweaters on,
layer on layer, in a land of Ice Queen eyes
like frozen darts. Snow was falling by the ton.
If something as soft as this could paralyse
the country what might a fat bomb not do?
It was a land of slippage and surprise.
What wonderful icicles, what splendid new
patterns on glass! We looked on the bright side
of life and knew that somehow we’d get through,
another chapter in the nation’s pride.