Sunday, January 27, 2008

Lines across London

Delivered by stealth, under cover of darkness, I arrived at concrete, soulless Euston. Having slipped silently over the dark silhouettes of Beattock and Shap, I rubbed my eyes and awoke to its sulphurous glare and multi-storey-car-park charm. In a half-slept stagger I meandered its interminable platforms before descending the escalator to London's underground veins. Here, I waited until caressed by the hot foul air that announced the tube's arrival. A thousand parallel lives travel through the earth together unmet, until accidental eyes collide - to self-consciously avert. Mind the gap.

At rush-hour Vauxhall, the dark river lumbers on, while the Oval's gas-holders preside over the seething city below. Countless trains whine through the platforms, draining the suburbs of life in its daily tidal flow. Reading, Guildford, Dorking, Kingston, Portsmouth, surrender its finest to the jaws of Waterloo. The graffiti artist who once wrote 'Good Morning Lemmings' on the A40 would be moved by the ruthless efficiency they have achieved on the old LSWR.

Driven by the need to live, a stubborn weed drives its way through the tarmac, to break free into glorious air - and smells London. Fetid, dank, littered London. Crowded, bloated, screaming London. This faded Imperial bully, whose Empire once coloured half the atlas, whose marbled wealth was extracted through tyranny, can barely feed and clothe its own.

My train arrives, and takes me out through Clapham junction, across featureless leafy suburbia and towards air. Berlin had a wall, but the edge of this great city is marked by the M25 motorway. As the train glides over it, four-lanes of stationary red lights mark it's passage North, as four lanes of stationary headlamps do for the South. The cold constrictors embrace diminishes a thousand lifetimes.

It took all the effort she could muster. It took several attempts. But yet undeniably, her weak, bloodied, trembling hand was moving out from under the sheet. In an act of sheer willpower, the fractured pieces of her mind managed to connect for just long enough to instruct the hand to rise, to mine; first one, and then the other. And to me they came, seeking love, seeking presence, reassurance, connection. These old, damaged, precious hands, bruised and emaciated, gave-out an old familiar love, even as they drank in the steady drip-drip-dip that was keeping her alive. There are moments of extraordinary beauty here amongst the dread.

The night train smuggled me out of London that night. This time the power failed in my carriage and we slid through the city's fingers in total darkness, the oppressive shadowy outlines of great buildings bearing down upon us with even greater force -now that we were denied bright windows behind which to hide.

The train accelerated as it drew me towards the windswept and happy North, and I eagerly anticipated walking home and the cold, clean, Scottish rain on my face. So I stared out of the window for the last time at dark London, this place in which wars are schemed and millions ruined; and realised that somehow this is also the setting for moments of exquisite beauty, where daily countless trembling hands meet.


The War Department said...

Beautifully written from your heart.

Lins Honeyman said...


Endlessly restless said...

so poignant, so evocative...

Didn't you recently say something about not being very creative? This is poetic prose of the highest order.

Lins Honeyman said...

I totally agree. You are a lamp hiding bushell (sic?) person! ;-)

Have you more of this beautiful poetry? If so, why haven't you got it published?

If not, can we see some more - you have an amazing talent, my friend.

sara! said...

Wow. I am speechless.
So beautifully written.

a. l. scot said...

Having the attention span of a 2 year old, I rarely read something twice... not so, with this poem. 2 times now and counting!!!

His Girl Friday said...

wow, very moving!