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BETWEEN TWO BRIDGES
                                   ‘. . . See, now they vanish,
                                   The faces and places, with the self which, as it could, loved them,
                                   To become renewed, transfigured, in another pattern.’

                                              T.S. Eliot (Little Gidding)



8pm

Wind scales the river in its mud.
It squirms and pirouettes to the tide’s score –
dance of a reptile, forging its cast in silt.

Here comes a friendly stray, with marble eyes.
And here, someone’s ditched a fridge. Boats
ghost-boats, Anon’s boarded-up work

wait beyond plank and oil drum jetties
for names to be painted back – Angela . . .
Dragonfly . . .  Pride of Newport . . .  Norma’s Ark . . .


I look for her name. (It brought me here
from clearer water, twenty years upstream).
A swan drifts down to a castle’s ruin.

A train crosses. On board’s my teenage ghost.
“Tonight,” he mimes, “I’ll walk these streets with you.
I’ll break my journey here. We’ll walk all night

then one of us will stay and one take flight.”

Redundant steel poles form a queue.
Their heads sprout dead sprigs, buds
whose clenched fists shake at the blue sky,

its sails drifting, too easily, out to sea.

11pm

I meet him inside a symmetrical park,
where Edwardians, in ghostly whites
swing massive pendulums

and the moon rolls through football goals.

I meet him where they can’t touch us –
the bridge limpers, the black eyes,
the vet bills for three-legged dogs

the piss emporiums, the furnaces,
the palest faces to miss
the last train home.

I meet him inside a symmetrical park.
We touch fingers, touch trees,
kick through shallow leaves

through Hornbeam, Sallow Willow,
Maidenhair, Flowering Ash . . .

The smoky heads on glass pillows,
the limpers from east to west
in time for the last bus

they can’t touch us.


2am

I follow his stagger up Stow Hill.
Taxi lights transfigure him,
draped in plastic road signs:

chevrons, white arrows
on blue shields – King Cone.

The wind beats its head on stone,
on glass, on Linda Barker’s smile.

Perhaps he has walked from hell
and perhaps I am dreaming him
but I follow him, past lock-ups

where a hell’s angel’s dream,
in pieces, is shown the light.

I follow him over the motorway.

Tracks, pylons, scrapyards . . .
the town’s raw nerves
twinkle, a child’s dream  

lulled in the moon’s headlamp.

I follow him under a railway bridge,
its thin, wire whine of breaks
or is it the wind’s harmonica?

Between two bridges I follow him

past a wave sculpted in steel,
a boat they found inside the mud
and thought an ark to save the port . . .

The same current underfoot
drags us on. I can’t keep up.

I catch the breath of those who drowned
to keep afloat this listing town,
the steel hull of it.

Only the wind raises them
and a few words perhaps, a name

cut in marble or wood.
(I am not too drunk to salute them).

The bank runs out. He sheds his cape.
A smudged lamp erases him.

The cradle under the big bridge
is a pendulum, marking time.
It ferries its load, back and fore . . .

The river shuffles on to the sea.

5am

The river’s nightshift nears its end, slips through an arch of daylight.
Cranes, their loads still, have caught nothing but stars all night.

The first train. His face in mine and, mirrored, a half-raised hand.
He should smile. Soon he’ll be walking greener banks with his friends,
setting nightlines, building fires, though I shan’t envy him

except when he’s drinking it dry and, walking in this later time,
I notice the river, barely a slough of itself in the cracked mud –
as if the moon had taken a long straw to the years and sucked.

He pulls away. The wind puts its lips to an arcade.
A seagull on a barber’s pole waits to open its blades.

8am

Wind scales the river in its mud.
It squirms and pirouettes to the tide’s score –
dance of a reptile, forging its cast in silt.

Here comes the stray with marble eyes.
He seems to belong here. I watch him
chase and bark the river on its way.

And here, someone’s ditched a red armchair.
Prifardd of mud, I lounge in it.
A train crosses. A swan sails near.

Downstream, the cradle ferries its load
back and fore, back and fore . . .
as town and river rise from their beds.

Like parts of a clock the small boats
and their jetties rise. I look for her name,
the woman who brought me here. If I wait

I might drift, between two bridges, in my chair
like Angela . . . Dragonfly . . . Pride of Newport . . .
Norma’s Ark . . .
I might find her.