Afternoon is hail.
The sky goes dark, clouds sweep in
shivering bare trees that crane over stone
and gaze down on leaves who have lost their way
golden and crumbling, scuffing on bridges, blowing
in the bus exhaust and the bicycles that sweep on by
dodging signs and faces, moving forward in the rain.
I walk on beneath the townhouses leaning together
like old men resting a moment on the cobbled hills
and the towers that raise their faces to the rain.
On Cornmarket Street
there's the bagpiper
you can hear him for a long way
lively jig or searing lament, coins glittering
on the plaid spread before him
keeping time with his own toe
not caring who watches, watching them
go back and forth and pour in streams from
glass and steel and stone, veiling
in the rain.
Tourists take shelter beneath the eaves
of modern shops and glowing windows,
playgrounds for the wealthy, their shells
left empty on the grilles that open to
subterranean windows: fast-food wrappers
skittering in the wind, caught short in their flight
against the craning stalks of lampposts, holding aloft
golden blown-glass orbs to pin back the onrushing rain.
Above them there are windows, some dark, some barred
some glowing with a light, and below you see your reflection
locked deep in the sheened cement beneath your feet
and water runs from the curb and gathers in the broken cobbles
and around you the human tiderush, moving in quick
fractions from the negative of a film-freeze, seen through
the looking-glass, and heads down and umbrellas and scarves
jackets and shopping bags held up against to guard
the hissing susurrus and silent crystalline moments
of the clattering fall of hail, bringing down
the clouds and mist and rain.
Evening is clearing.
The clouds break and a breath of flame
touches the low-lying streamers in the north
and the bell-towers rear head and shoulders
back above the scurrying maze of people
to stand there, to reach, ancient walls and
high crenellations standing side by side
with Starbucks and McDonalds, a brightness
a modern plasticity where you step for a moment
you could be anywhere, but then you come free
and down past the tangled wynds with names
like Penny Farthing Lane and Starwort Road
narrow cobbled side roads closing out the sky
and shadows dancing in the licking remnants
of the starburst falling rainstorm now gone.
There in a moment you're alone, and the noise
of civilization gone behind you, you step into the
grounds of a castle, there among the houses on the hill
and the buses and the shops, for a moment you disappear
into history. At the far end of the wall, a buttress tower
and a flag at the top, you stand there, gaze at it
in the light of the dimming sunset, and hear,
"Hurry, my lady.... and go with God."
Footsteps on cobbled stones, and the snows of midwinter
thousands of years ago, brought here in a moment
close enough to touch.
Placing your notebook on the ancient ring wall
bordering a green faerie hill
to button your jacket against
the oncoming chill.
Tucking your scarf in
and turning away
Emerging from darkness
The last of the day.
And in a moment,
Absorbed in again beneath the gaze
of the towers, who have seen
more than this
more than you.
You walk then, and wish
"you" could see through "my" eyes
a moment that the lens cannot touch
glass dappled with rain.
Step forward, and you're free then
among the hordes waiting at the bus station
and then you're there, not caring
thinking things like, Jesus, Christ Church is beautiful
and watching the wall bend away
through the low trees, looking for its end
lost in the mist.
The streetlamps still catching
an edge of gold on the trees
and the spidered ironwork
clutching a gasp of pale sky
high on the stone cupola
in the ancient towers gilded
by the deepening darkness
and the soft-coming mist
and here on the eve of All Saints
you believe, although what
you couldn't say.
and somewhere, for a moment
barely heard but echoing
shivering the air, to touch
but not to bring back, there and gone: