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Andy Croft

 

Grisdale
The House Beautiful
Mile Five
The Neon Thrush
Comrade Laughter
Jet Lag in Babarbashkagorod
 

GRISDALE

'If you break the bloody glass you won't hold up the weather'

(MacNeice)

From Stony Rigg the swollen hills

Rise up through mist and sodden moors,

In tidal waves of rain that drown

The dale below as flooded gills

Leap into Grisdale Beck, then down

To Garside Head, the road to Hawes,

To pour itself into the Clough,

The Lane, the sea, which cannot drain

This river dry of Pennine rain,

Though seas are never full enough.

The radio brings news from Asia,

A long way from this cold and wet,

Where sabre-toothed economies

In Thailand, South Korea, Malasia,

Devour their tails, and Japanese

Investment banks collapse in debt,

As Yen and Won come crashing down

Like trees that fall into the river,

And now we all must face this weather

Like sheep in roofless, dry-stone barns

There's nowhere sate from the Irrational

Workings of the markets; cold seas

Of greed and graft devour the earth,

The rain of money's international,

And bursting banks are never full enough.

Outside the mist begins to freeze,

This rain is set to last for ever.

The dying light is washed away,

The fire grins; we're warm today,

But who can now predict the weather?

A long way from the Pacific rim,

The cold is crying through the lock.

Outside, the ranks of dripping fir

On wooded hillsides add their grim

And lonely beauty to the blur

Of green and grey. inside, the clock

Slows down like rain through dripping trees

We pour ourselves another drink

And stare into the fire and think

Of sinking hills and rising seas.

THE HOUSE BEAUTIFUL

For Liz Lush and Peter Salt

from the place where he now stood, even to the end of the valley, the way was all along set so full of snares, traps, gins, and nets here, and so full of pits, pitfalls, deep holes, and shelvings,' (Bunyan)

From Houghton House the sleepy plain's

A beer-mat scene of harvest gold,

Where citizens of sleep's domain

Wake up to find their dreams gone cold

And England sold to profiteers

In sleepy, sleepy Bedfordshire.

Between the quarried and the bricks

Between the landfill and the clay,

All earthly aspiration sticks

Hungover in the light of day

(Like those who sup on Bombadier

In sleepy, sleepy Bedfordshire).

But something in this treeless vale

Stilt stirs the yeast of earth-bound schemes,

Like prelate's broth and local ale

And chillastic sects that dream

Of Armageddon's panacea

In sleepy, sleepy Bedfordshire.

Between the morning star and bed

The vale sides are strange and steep

So pilgrims lay their sleepy heads

As in a dream and yet not sleep

And see a vision shining clear

In sleepy, sleepy Bedforshire.

He who would leave a tinker's cottage

To prove some dreams are not for sale

Must learn to price a mess of pottage -

(TWELVE YEARS BANGED UP IN BEDFORD GAOL)

For peaceful dreams come very dear

In sleepy, sleepy Bedfordshire.

As sleepy taxi-drivers know when called

On midnight trips to even scores

In smack and cocaine border wars

And end up dead to all the world

Their progress marks the wild frontiers

Of sleep In sleepy Bedfordshire

And pilgrim tourists passing by

Don't see the crack below the street,

Who keep their eyes upon the sky

Don't see the pit beneath their feet

Who follow steps that disappear

Up wooden hills to Bedfordshire

While Mansoul's fast asleep in bed

The night takes flight on cobweb wings

And crawls inside the sleepers head

To lay the eggs of nightmare things

That breed the Diabolonian fears 

That stir in sleepy Bedfordshire
But even sleepy English scenes
Like this must choose to dream or wake
And know the difference between

The two and waking help to make

The cold night's pitfalls disappear

In sleepy, sleepy Bedfordshire.

What's lost by night's regained by day

As morning washes Mansoul clean,

The sun comes up once more to slay

The monsters of the night's ravine

And shows the sun-lit way shine clear

On hills that lead from Bedfordshire.

 

 

MILE FIVE

'Fame runs before him, as the Morning Star And shouts 
of joy salute him from afar" (Dryden, Absolom and Achitophel)
Just less than 30 minutes on the clock
And you're already running out of puff. 
You've also hit a kind of mental block:
In case the running wasn't tough enough, 
Half-marathon arithmetic's dead hard!
You check your watch and try to do the sums 
(How many miles a minute, hours a yard,
Is tough with just your fingers and your thumbs). 
Subtract the time you took to pass the start,
Divide by four, times by 13.1 
And take off sixty! Easy if you're smart
But not if - just a minute though, hang on 
You try the maths again just to be sure,
That can't be right, there must be some mistake, 
Eight minute miles - that's 1hr 44!
The next nine miles should be a piece of cake! 
Alas, from this point on your griefs begin.
The next three miles you're running on your tod, 
From Pelaw on the crowds begin to thin;
Which leaves you feeling lonely as you plod 
Towards the coast without the roadside cheers
Of camera-waving family, friends and neighbours, 
Without their urging ringing in your ears
You're left to face your solitary labours.
To be alone and yet completely hidden
Among so large a throng you quickly find 
The most unlikely ghosts turn up unbidden
And run beside you till they fall behind. 
Up on your left's a kind of labour heaven,
A whole estate named after those long dead 
Keir Hardie, William Morris, Pankurst, Sevan
Who each would be black-listed as a Red; 
There's gardens named for Lansbury, Laski, Shaw,
For Priestley, Davie Kirkwood, AJ Cook 
And half the class of 1924
(Though fans of Ramsay Mac are out of luck), 
The Webbs, George Loveless, Henderson, Will Thome,
MacMillan, Maggie Bondfield, Stafford Cripps, 
Bright, star-lit heralds of the coming dawn
Now clouded by the mid-day sun's eclipse. 
What chance in seventy years of Milburn Mews?
Of Darling Drive, Blair Boulevard, Third Way? 
Will Present Prospect smoke with Bar-B-Qs?
Or Mandy Mansions crumble and decay? 
Does Crony Court, Straw Street or Campbell Crescent
Sound like the kind of place you'd like to dwell? 
Will PFI-built homes be obsolescent,
Which first-time Byers find they cannot sell?
We mark our passage through this world with names
Like moon-light pebbles on the forest track; 
Like children lost within a wood, such games
Enable us to know the journey back. 
But when the crusts of comfort all are eaten
We have to cut a path between the trees, 
And promises of sugar cannot sweeten
The story of the forests refugees. 
You'd think by now we'd recognise the plot:
The hungry man who leaves his kids for dead, 
The little boy who's fattened for the pot,
The barefoot girt who bakes the witch's bread. 
Though long-imagined paths are worn and old
It doesn't mean they cant be any good; 
As long as tales of justice go untold
The children will stay lost inside the wood. 
And as this heartless world's opinion hardens
Grand Narratives like that which once inspired 
The builders who laid William Morris Gardens
Need telling once again, for even tired 
And weary runners know you cant survive
If you believe that you are all atone, 
Or that, as you are carried past mile five,
Your aching legs are only flesh and bone.

 

THE NEON THRUSH
In memory of Paul Hogarth

I leant against the car-park wall
When frost was neon-pink,
Weighed down by bags of shopping full
Of New Year food and drink,
And tangled spools of tape uncurled
Among the car-park litter
A silent sound-track for a world
Grown old and cold and bitter.
The freezing car-park might have made
A fitting year's-end figure,
The word made skin and bones, clichéd
As Winter's iron rigor
But all at once a voice arose
Among the shopping trolleys,
A song with which to juxtapose
The century's human follies.
Confused by car-park neon lights
To sing the coming dawn,
It sang instead the death-bed rites
Of vanities unborn.
False dawn, false start, O stupid bird!
An uninvited heckler,
Appropriate to this absurd
And gloomy fin de siecle.
A proper Y2K poseur!
As if to disregard
The deadened senses of the year
It sang this false aubade.
This night is like a two-faced dream,
The century's paradigm,
Where artless Nature can’t redeem
What humans do in time.


 

COMRADE LAUGHTER
 

'History is thorough and goes through many phases when carrying an old form to the grave. The last phase of a world-historical form is its comedy. The gods of Greece, already tragically wounded to death in Aeschylus's Prometheus Bound, had to die a comic death in Lucian's Dialogues. Why? So that humanity should part with its past cheerfully' (Karl Marx)
 

'I have never met anyone who could laugh so infectiously as Vladimir llyich.' (Maxim Gorky)
 

'Good morning, Comrade Laughter, There's plenty of work For you here! (Paul Potts)
 

1       COMRADE LAUGHTER
 

I think of you as short and fat
A Chaplin-Chonkin-Svejk,
The little bloke who finds a joke
In what you most dislike
And laughing at what you despise
Cuts down the mighty and the wise to size.

Except the joke's on us these days,
And History's in reverse
The old regime is here to stay,
The jokes keep getting worse,
And if you think this means we're cheerful
I am afraid you risk a tearful earful.


2. Comrade Laughter Tries Slapstick

D’you hear the one about the man
Who said that it's a farce
When History repeats itself
And ends up on its arse?
Though sit-coms entertain the masses,
Still History kicks the working classes' asses.


4 Comrade Laughter Tries Stand-up

There's these three politicians, right,
Called Blair and Bush and Straw,
They say that they are men of peace
Who hate the thought of war,
And though it's hard to fucking credit
It's true because they fucking said it. Geddit?


5. Comrade Laughter at the End of the Pier

The jokers who now rule the world
They really are a pair,
A priceless old-time music-hall
Routine called Blush and Bare,
If you could see them they would seem
The kind of double act you'd deem a scream.
 

6 Comrade Laughter in Pantoland

The men in wigs, the girl in drag,
The crowd who shouts, 'behind you!
Oh no he's not! Oh yes he is!'
Are there just to remind you
That History's just a pantomime
Where bad guys get away with crime big time.


7  Comrade Laughter: Last Known Whereabouts

Although this grinning photo proves
That you were in Grenada,
Where all they had was ridicule
To fight the Yank invader,
The day that poor Maurice was tried
The Revo's sunlit laughter died inside
 

8  Comrade Laughter at the Circus

Though any fool can fall off steps,
Be hit with custard pies,
The art of looking foolish is
For History's fools to prize:
How hard it is to fall with style,
Enjoy the joke and ail the while still smile.

9  Comrade Laughter Forgets the Punchline

They laughed at us when we declared
It would be really funny
To overthrow the powerful
And end the rule of money.
But now our laughter's spent we're broke
And can't explain to other folk the joke.

10 Comrade Laughter's Moscow Tour

You would die laughing if you saw
The jokes they run in TASS,
Old Yeltsin has a clown's red nose
And Putin's just a gas;
They'd be the death of you, you'd bust
A gut with laughter's tears, or just disgust.
 

11 Comrade Laughter Goes AWOL

There's some say you tore up your card
Fed up with splits and rancour,
There's others saw you at the front,
Or in the Lubyanka,
While others say you're still a Red,
Or is it true, as some have said,
you're dead?


JET-LAG IN BARABASHKAGOROD

for Tanya and Elena

As the poem begins I feel myself
Slipping beneath the sleepy waves
Of the obsidian sea thousands of feet below us.
I can hear a voice coughing like a saw through the ice
In the middle of the lake.
Or is it a fly I can hear in my ear
Buzzing zhh little baby
As it crawls across the page
Like a line of rude starfish
On the bottom of the obscene river Ob?

I awake some time later
In a city of mini-skirts and ice-creams,
Illuminated by bright scientific thoughts.
'Welcome to Space Station Novosibirsk,' says Andrei,
'First city on the moon, capital of virtual Sibir.'
I order a piva in the bar of the Cyber Hotel,
Designed by five Microsoft engineers
As a 1970s Intourist-retro theme-park
Where the teetotallers drink vodka
Non-smokers smoke,
The girls in leather trousers read Gary Potter
The voices in the walls
Don't like talking Tolkein
And Tanya is waiting for her meal to arrive.

I fall asleep watching TV in the bar
As Ivan is turned into a reindeer by Angelica Houston,
His eye-brows going up and down
Like a bride's nightie.
At the birthday-cake railway station
Bright as icing-sugar snow in Prostokvashino,
The trains arrive from the East before they have left
And Uncle Fyodor never grows up
And Elena laughs at my atrocious accent.

And when I awake
I have turned into a snake.
And Tanya is still waiting for her meal to arrive.

Once upon a Time
I pick up a tiny book about Troy by Bill Herbert Wells,
Made of paper roughly torn out of a Rough Guide to rough toilets.
And I fall asleep reading about a magical land
Where once upon a time
The mullet-king's daughter
Was loved by a cheese with a male character.
By now, Tanya has not eaten for a week. .

The Frenchwoman pulls of her moustache
In the parish of Paris
And orders a macho nacho
Saying, 'is that a balalaika in your pocket
Or are you just pleased to see me?'
The voice in the wall is still there,
Saying, 'I want to die'
And the miller tells his tale,
And Tanya, still waiting for her food,
Turns a whiter shade of pale.

When I awake inside Baba Yagar's house ;
There is a line of broken Putin dolls on the floor
Like eggs containing two nations.
Dima the driver throws his porridge at the wall.
Meanwhile, the man from Sparks
Sings another verse of 'Moscow Nights'
And the man from Marx
Flaps like Batman in the square,
And Tanya announces she is going to shoot herself.

By now the poem is beginning to take in too much water,
So Elena decides to drive the bus to the airport,
Her delicate wrists twisting the wheel in an Ob-stacle race
Over the holes in the road as wide as the Ob.
But we are obliged to stop
By a line of cross animals slowing:
Chickens in tights, anys in cream,
Jousting cats and vampire bats,
A kvack-ing frog, Dil the salty dog,
Matroskin the cat, striped like a sailor,
And Ermin-trude, perched on the shoulder
Of a Siberian tiger from the Taiga.
And as I sink for the last time beneath the waves of Ob-livion
I can still hear the voice of the poet crying in the dark,
'Where is Caroline ? Who is David Beckham?
Where is Comrade Laughter? Who is Victor?'