Fighting in Newhaven

Here Ho Chi Minh – under
his pseudonym of Thàn
served travellers’ pastries
on a French ship routed
from Newhaven’s docks

His silver service ways
and polished tableware
have been long-buried
under that now piled skyline
of scrap metal and waste

Still a French ferry – but today
slipping out to diesel rumbles –
with beer-plied pleasure seekers –
holidaymakers – and
a deck of saturnine truckers

In this light a ghost-white hull –
Turner’s Fighting Temeraire
awaits clearance to enter
and roll her weak bow wave
through her last high tide

But she is no more than a fret
breathed out by those who lust
for lost British sea power
This slumped harbour reeks
of sun-dried fishing nets

Below its fort’s high facade
Newhaven’s battalion collapsed –
West Beach fell to le Tricolore
Sussex were druv when a strip
of her sand was lost to France

It would be easy to follow steps
and reach an edge of this island
but stupor and heat keep me seated
Rust is pre-eminent in Newhaven
There is no revolutionary cure

On the Meridian

It is a valorised thing –
according to Tesco’s
stuck clock –
it keeps all minutes
at ten past each hour

An upturned claw on top
of the brewery’s
brick chimney
sits finger-ready to grab
electrical strikes

as charged forklift trucks
whirl and rattle
quick around that
barrel-high yard
to meet loading outs
and unloading empties

where white smoke
from Jenner’s pipes
almost declare rogue
Popish thoughts
without bonfire boys
in that lazy town of
timeless martyrs

Men with beards –
each worth a tall story –
gather in cafes –
some sat high inside –
some sit outside
under chalked signs

How to tell such saints
and vagrants apart?
Hipsters and tramps
trading shit for kicks –
that stink of piss marks
their short-distance

The Ouse runs up and in
muddied and quick –
as if time’s rule
has been put in reverse
whilst so-special shops
sell out of bow ties
and string

to men and women
who prefer to spend
their Lewes Pound
– Keeping it local
they also voted for
One Nation Conservatism

If you stand still
for long enough
on Cliffe Bridge
the world and his wife
will pass you by –
ten times –
in both directions

On tidal urges
from her river’s mouth –
and in unseen particles
from a local incinerator –
all that Lewes renounces
does – in time – return


Pinned to https://www.placesofpoetry.org.uk/

The Pilot

Stunned by an off-keel tip –
but that was part of the deal
of any such heaved pull
under the pilot’s minimal steer
of his salt-pressed gig crew –

then the high wave-slams of
the clinker-laid hardwood boat
upon the vast ship’s tarred hull –
as if beating upon the pregnant
belly of a dark leviathan

Those men had won the right
to pull alongside – to profit –
to earn their paid return to the
dark harbour’s pints of succour –
but only with the turn of the tide

by half a dozen oars in that boat
timed by a hundred – or more –
counted out from the hefted launch
to that last profitable throw of rope
onto the huge ship of strangers

Feathering

It’s not the same pull or heave
as it was in my rowed youth –

no – this is chalk-and-flint stuff
below fast streams and run-offs

I am far removed from the flow
of the Thames through London

I now dig at the Ouse’s history
of dead poets and burning barrels

where no old boys or public schools
oversteer on her narrow channel

We aim to somehow fly
with the feather of our honest oars –

in a boat designed for work –
not built for pots or snobbery