London, six o'clock in June, two-o-o-five:
These streets were built in nineteen-five or thereabouts
in unimaginative grid, on London clay and previous watercress beds
by builders and those, quote, 'developers',
whose sudden stroke of luck was that the Tube line was diverted
and foreshortened, now to pass this way all overground;
it took a century, and climate change, to prove
that cracked-out summer clay and winter watercourse,
and building onto earth, are not the best foundation...
but these terraces of modest houses
(alternate houses gabled, bayed, to suggest they're twice the size)
have stood the test of time, when, often, underpinned;
intended for the aspirational working-class,
they've now become, these last few years,
'first homes' for the equally aspirational middle-class;
tonight the streets are nose-to-tail with silent, gleaming
four-wheelers looking down their grilles
at nifty runabouts - some, I regret to say,
parked where suburban front-gardens once declared respectability
in token concrete-and-flower three metres square of space
as subtly expressive in miniature
as any grandly-vista-ed and avenued ducal drive.
All is very quiet at this hour; doors firmly closed;
front gardens are for show just like front parlours were.
Across the road, for all I know,
(for this is London; one does not often chum across the street)
our neighbours may live sunburned Southern lives
in long back gardens which face West (ours, East and overshadowed) :
while on this side, just one front door is out of line:
like some beached whale (or dolphin sounds more cute)
providing a double-take but just too late for passing pedestrians,
I sit at open door with paperback, in jasmine heaven,
which may last - three weeks? but which in this first year of flower,
is both a song of praise and Southern holiday;
it's lost its first exhilaration, but acquired
a subtle maturity so that, one lungful gloried in,
one's ready straightway for yet more perfection;
a week or so, and its poignant sharp-sour scent
will bring back memories of summer's ripe Venetian back-canals.
This new-found gazebo, to you in Southern climes
will be just commonplace - as afternoon front porch,
or sociable evening verandah or leisured stoep,
where West Indians, for instance, wait to pass the time of day
with passing neighbours; for me, exotic new delight;
so that I'm quietly proud when the Trinidadians from two doors away
take my presence, sitting there, as invitation to pause there at my gate
and pass the time of day.
On one side of the door, vermilion geraniums
survived a mildish winter; their colour in this evening sun
incredible: blazing colour from one petal, sun-glowed in another;
can vermilion really be, as reason and art-teachers say,
a mixture of yellow in with red? Not here, today...and so, itself,
that you can feel it hit the retina and demand
more than the physics of the eye can stand....
and then, the other side, the pink geranium
sings quite a different song - one hears, but cannot say
just where the difference lies in colour's music scale.
Metaphysics, for three thousand years or more
in East and West, has held in high debate
whether what, like this, the senses' scene, provides
may be direct connection with what's called divine;
or whether this must be transcended in some mindful way.
The answer, here, today, for me is in
one glimpse of sunlight through geranium.