Through Brixton and Other Poems

David Penn

Through Brixton
Sackclothed prophets roaring
                        ‘Sodom and Gomorrah,
                                    Sodom and Gomorrah’
chase a girl in a short white nearly
                        see-through skirt
                                    who’s disagreed. She holds
her handbag like a buckler, thinks one prophet’s
                        going to run her over
                                    - thighs like chariot wheels.
He listens to the air: ‘What’s this?
                        What’s this I’m hearing?
                                    Sodomgomorrah!’ She laughs.
He smiles: the Phantom of the Opera, teeth
                        like tusks. A tall
                                    black handsome preacher, Bible-
batoned, quickly shakes 
                        the prophet’s hand
                                    and walks away. An old
white tramp picks menus from a bin:
                        ‘What’s this I’m hearing?
                                    Egg tomato
one pound twenty, ham
                        one seventy-five, pork sausage
                                    avocado…’ On
the pavement outside KFC Koreans
                        dance in smocks. One beams
                                    in my direction: ‘Jesus 
died for you’. I dive but someone else gets caught,
                        looks guilty under
                                    radar eyes. Another’s
singing solo, face alive
                        above his flannel suit,
                                    dark glasses lapping sky.
The passengers charge the steps
            like Spartacus’s men, and Robbie’s there
to spur them on. The station shouts
            from all its mouths
            to make him leave,
but someone’s got to watch the enemy.
They, outside, control the high street,
            tapping in their cars. They never think
he sees them when he hides flat up
            beside the paper stand.
Sometimes, though, he roars and waves
            the Tin of Liberty, and then they know:
he speaks the truth. He tells them:
            ‘Don’t despair’, and from his milk crate
with his blanket round his chest
            he says it all, like Lenin, 
and the flower-sellers hand him bouquets
            and a chorus line of tube card beggars
            dances just for him.
Out of the Window
Wish it was enough for me to say:
‘I don’t know what it is’ –
more a desire, the heart’s
fluctuation, than a thing. Yet:
patchwork sky, pigeons skittering,
the grass, the trees
dipping each leaf individually,
which is, fantastically,
different in its green
from every other,
and each bud, twig, attentively,
flags of assent, agreement,
encouragement -
messages in languages
I can’t possibly understand,
yet I do: green, white,
blue. The path
of one swallow streaks
across the sky
to rip open minds.


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