At Richmond

The gardens are in bloom your mother loved.

A jazz trumpet blares – ‘Stormy Weather’ –

to a girl spread with her laptop on the grass.

Delinquent for a day, you came

to catch the last of summer on these paths

or the bank grown perilous with out-of-control,

knotted weeds, where your father fished

at weekends, where, midweek, only tourists stroll

and the river-god, Old Father Thames,

cuckoo-spit shining in his beard,

is unfazed by the pleasure-boat’s farting horn.


How they clung here by their fingertips

to respectability, slipping each year

a little further down a terrible, almost-sheer

drop into bottomless debt. You, meanwhile,

rose beyond the world of ‘bread’,

heedless of where yours came from; chose

another music, being free to choose.

At Richmond the river is running for the city;

Though the tall houses on the hill and hotels

In white paint hint of the cliffs and broader sea,

He cannot falter nor alter from his nature


Lines you took to, and took to heart, at fifteen,

your poetic years, when you haunted

the bookshop run by a red-faced,

purse-lipped, cantankerous old queen

who taunted you with how you probably hadn’t read

‘anything except – who? Ted Hughes?’

That stung with its wrongness. A year or so on,

it was the folk-club in the church crypt – another

well-brought-up sensitive with cavalier hair

and songs of consequence-free love

on mattresses in flea-market-furnished attics.


You had your share of that, more than your share.

The bookshop flogs ‘interior design’,

the old boy’s long dead, like your mother

and father, and the sky’s gone dark; gulls drift above

the river, driven by a storm. That’s still here,

at least – the pub in which you watched

the ‘legendary’ Peter Green sip a beer –

he was alone, but you were too shy to speak…

Too late now, much too late.

And suddenly you recall her next line:

Lord, neither let falsity my days dissipate.