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This poem is taken from Poetry Nation 1 Number 1, 1973.

Four Poems Charles Tomlinson


The needle-point's swaying reminder
Teeters at thirty, and the flexed foot
Keeps it there. Kerb-side signs
For demolitions and new detours,
A propped pub, a corner lopped, all
Bridle the pressures that guide the needle.

I thought I knew this place, this face
A little worn, a little homely.
But the look that shadows softened
And the light could grace, keeps flowing away from me
In daily change; its features, rendered down,
Collapse expressionless, and the entire town

Sways in the fume of the pyre. Even the new
And mannerless high risers tilt and wobble
Behind the deformations of acrid heat -
A century's lath and rafters. Bulldozers
Gobble a street up, but already a future seethes
As if it had waited in the crevices:

A race in transit, a nomad hierarchy:
Cargoes of debris out of these ruins fill
Their buckled prams; their trucks and hand-carts wait
To claim the dismantlings of a neighbourhood -
All that a grimy care from wastage gleans,
From scrap-iron down to heaps of magazines.

Slowing, I see the faces of a pair
Behind their load: he shoves and she
Trails after him, a sexagenarian Eve,
Their punishment to number every hair
Of what remains. Their clothes come of their trade -
They wear the cast-offs of a lost decade.

The place had failed them anyhow, and their pale
Absorption staring past this time
And dusty space we occupy together,
Gazes the new blocks down - not built for them;
But what they are looking at they do not see.
No Eve, but mindless Mnemosyne,

She is our lady of the nameless metals, of things
No hand has made, and no machine
Has cut to a nicety that takes the mark
Of clean intention - at best, the guardian
Of all that our daily contact stales and fades,
Rusty cages and lampless lampshades.

Perhaps those who have climbed into their towers
Will eye it all differently, the city spread
In unforeseen configurations, and living with this,
Will find that civility I can only miss - and yet
It will need more than talk and trees
To coax a style from these disparities.

The needle-point's swaying reminder
Teeters: I go with uncongealing traffic now
Out onto the cantilevered road, window on window
Sucked backwards at the level of my wheels.
Is it patience or anger most renders the will keen?
This is a daily discontent. This is the way in.


The lamps are on: terrestrial galaxies,
Fixed stars and moving. How many lights,
How many lives there are, cramped in beside
This swathe of roadway. And its sodium circuits
Have ousted the glimmer of a thousand hearths
To the margins of estates whose windows
Blaze over pastoral parentheses. Scatterings
Trace out the contours of heights unseen,
Drip pendants across their slopes.
Too many of us are edging behind each other
With dipped beams down the shining wet.
Our lights seem more beautiful than our lives
In the pulse and grip of this city with neither
Time nor space in which to define
Itself, its style, as each one feels
His way among the catseyes and glittering asterisks
And home on home reverberates our wheels.


Old women come here to die. Nurses
Tend them with a sort of callous zest
That keeps their youthful patience, guarantees it
In face of all they do not wish to be:
Shrunk limbs, shrunk lives, the incontinence.
A woodland scene is hanging on the wall,
To rectify some lost connection
With a universe that goes on shepherding its flock
Of fogs out there, its unkillable seasons.
Dying, these old have for an ally still
That world of repetitions, for, once gone,
They are replaced incessantly. In the ward
The picture-glass gives back the outlines
Of both old and young, in a painted
Sunlight and among the twines of trees.


'The country's love-
liness,' it said:
what I read was
'the country's love-
lines' - the unnec-
essary 's'
passed over by
the mind's blind-
ly discriminating eye:
but what I saw
was a whole scene
restored: the love-
lines drawing
together the list
'loveliness' capped
and yet left
vague, unloved;
lawns, gardens, houses,
the encircling trees.

This poem is taken from Poetry Nation 1 Number 1, 1973.

Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this poem to
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