Saturday, 29 January 2011

'Delectable Creatures'

by Jo Shapcott

You won't remember, but it was
October and the street trees
still coloured like rude bouquets.
I had some rare walks by the river,
the weak sun loose on the water
and the light so washed out and lovely
it would make you cry if you weren't
completely alert. Every step I took
they were uncovering something: people
sleeping under cardboard, a lost riverboat
marooned on a freak low tide, the buried flotsam
which made metal detectors buzz, theatres
with resonant names: The Rose, The Globe.

And I was carrying a torch for someone
to the point of hallucination:
we rolled in flames through seven fields, the burning
so thorough I longed to be shocked by water,
a faceful of anything, even the smelly Thames.

And I remember the press full of doctors,
of inventions: a herringbone fragment
of DNA to fool a virus, a wisp
of vitamin to lock onto inner decay
and knock it dead for good. We were
saving vouchers, too, for air miles.

There was, O yes, the morning I woke up
to see an open book, drying on the drainer.
Dimly reconstructing the night before
I remembered dropping off, head on the desk,
getting up moments later, to select the book
with extra exquisite care from any old shelf.
I slowly chose a page, spread it with jam
and butter, and tried to stuff it down my mouth.
It was, of course, Freud's 'Jokes and the Unconscious'.
I must have tried to stack it like a tea plate,
stacked it, then put myself into my bed.

I think the explanation could be this:
that in the light, the river was sometimes pink,
and St Paul's was pink, and even Lloyd's
in the distance was pink, as I crossed Waterloo Bridge
with a purchase under my arm, some piece
of frou frou or novel to bring me back
from the seven fields, back to the river mist
which must once have been river water, back
to breathing mist so deeply I  could feel
each droplet hit my diaphragm like shot.

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