POEMS 1998-23: The Grand Tour
It’s the end of March & my rent is due,
But two life options lie open to me;
Break with a lover, her friendship, split thro,’
Or chain myself to the servility
Of capitalism… A poet true
I yearn to be, so young, so sure, so free;
Romancin’ my mind with poetry’s flow,
So be it, with sure brave heart, let me go.
I made love to my love the night before
I wrapp’d my guitar in a grey, baggy
Jumper once worn on cold nights down Turf Moor,
Raided the bank for all my rent money,
& embark’d upon a third busker’s tour –
Her scent mull’d like wine, her tongue lull’d honey,
How we laugh’d as we revell’d, dear Rosie,
In kisses & love-songs & pure poesy!
I watch the white cliffs recede to a speck,
Then sang a fond farewell to old Blighty,
When, like a wreck-head at a discotheque,
A certain chunderness docks to smite me,
I had to head down to the under-deck,
Feeling so sick I think I should whitey –
As one voyage ends, another embarks
At Ostend, changing Pounds to Francs & Marks.
I take the greatest train jump of my tour
From Vienna to Villach, on a sleek
Inter-City, as each Alp towers o’er
My little carriage, each volcanic peak
Thrust from the fertile, verdant valley floor
With breathtakin’ beauty – I could not speak,
Until dinnertime by a mountain stream…
Austria’s watchers echo’d to my scream.
How glad am I to enter Italy,
For the call of the muse grows ever strong,
Like some wild animal trapp’d inside me,
To find fair form in my juvenile song;
Snowy mountains shrink to a flat country,
Thro’ fields of lazy green we zoom’d along,
To Venice; as Italy greets my feet
A grand canal sparkles… but where’s the street?
Three days I spend in ardor Venetian,
Three nights in a disused railway carriage,
Gusting around this floating museum
On life’s perfect barge; there is a marriage
Between my soul & the elysian,
A poet’s dreams come pulsing to the page,
As here in this soft city I savor
My first Italian ice cream flavor!
Distant Riviera di Levante
My heart’s destination, mine art’s true call,
But first, the mausoleum of Dante,
To tap into a predecessor soul,
Overgrown with moss & creeping ivy,
My man, you were the wildest of us all!
Ravenna, this may be a swift sojourn,
But one day, with my wife, I shall return.
How balmy is the Florentine evening,
Whose stylish sweetness softens Dante’s tongue,
Outside Shelley’s old villa I’m busking,
To soon attract a most beautiful throng
Of German frauleins young, & visiting
This sultry city, entranc’d by my song,
Two of them follow me into a park
For passionate encounters in the dark.
We wake in arms! After cappuccinos,
We wander moped streets, a sacred city
Thro’ which argent-sheen’d Arno slowly flows;
I buy a book to fill with poetry,
On the title page Maya draws a rose,
Then buy fresh foods & climb a hill where we
Build a fire, cook dinner, watch the sunshine
Fade over Florence with a sweet red wine.
‘How romantic it is to be abroad,
Free from the chains of a working mans day,’
Think I while walkin’ the main Pisan road
Passing a troupe of buskers on the way
With guitar, ink-pens & notebook my load
I’ve arrived, & all my dreams fade away
Seeing the leaning tower – am I drunk?
On further inspection one side has sunk.
Back from the tower Fate bids me to meet
The busker’s troupe in musical mid-flow;
There’s an old black bluesman with dust-bare feet,
A dark, Chilean named Kapitano,
Then a saxman sultrifying the street;
They offer me wine, adding my oestro,
You’ve never heard a more raunchier noise,
& just like that! I’m one of the bad boys.
I settle with this best of holidays;
Each one begins with pasta from a nun,
Then idle hours spent musing under rays
Of an English summer-like springtime sun;
When falls the warm evening I, then, amaze
The Pisan public with songs sweetly spun,
& blitzed on six bottles of Tuscan red,
Outside a church we make our cardboard bed.
I jump a train to San Guilliano,
To walk on Shelley’s mountains, but, instead,
I’ll sit in the street with old man Franco,
He ploughs me with red, risotto & bread,
Plus a whole sow’s leg – my stomach doth blow!
Tho’ we hardly understand a word said,
Conversazione; war, England, life,
Italy, poetry & his dead wife.
I wander up the coastline for to muse,
Setting up camp in a cliffside quarry,
Resplendent in luscious blue sea-side views;
By the chapel of Portovenere,
Tonight, my life, my mind, mine art shall fuse,
&, awakening to my destiny,
Prepare for the sun to set ‘low the line,
By buildin’ fire, ent’rin town, stealin’ wine.
With topless bottle of red in my hand,
I scamper up cliff face with the surge-might
Of some fabl’d hero from Plato’s land,
When, claiming the top, gulls in freedom’s flight,
Silhouetted setting sun, a wide band
Of gold spread ‘cross azure seas, from this height
I muse upon rippling sea-meadows blue –
This evening gives birth to a poet true.
I pause to reflect on the life I knew;
Nice house, nice job, nice girl, nice skunk, nice deal;
Compare these to these skies & seas of blue,
And this sense of sheer assurance I feel
At joinin’ the bravestars, we happy few –
No more a cog on the soul-grindin’ wheel,
Besides, England does my fuckin’ brain in,
& I bet, as I’m writin,’ it’s rainin’.
Dizzying to my heart’s epiphany,
The last sun-chink was slipping ‘low the line,
Her deep shed ray sped ‘cross the darkling sea
To sparkle on an object, close, divine;
A Silver Rose, so lovely & so wee,
Had caught my eyes, drunk on delightful shine,
I pluck’d my moment’s floral memento,
Then left for camp, led by its lamp-like glow.
Southwards I go, to Viareggio,
Beside the Apennines, whose lofty height
Towers o’er the lines of my fine canto,
As shrouded by the drowsy, star-strewn night,
I build a fire beside the softsea flow,
Cook up a meal, by fading ember light
I shed a tear for some long-ago year,
When Shelley’s corpse was found & burnt, right here!
Soon I am back in bohemian swing
Musing away; one long, mellow daydream;
By the side of the Arno sometimes sing,
Or bask in the sun with wine & ice-cream,
Or busk to the world as a poet-king,
Then party hard with Kapitano’s team;
For life is forever tender to me
Having tasted the breath of Italy.
In the warm morning, after a party,
I sit with Kapitano round a fire;
He teaches me the bird-songs of Chile
& how to busk a day without a lyre;
Brimming with wisdom into the city
I drift, when, in a shock of love desire,
She’s sat on the grass, banging wee bongos,
‘…to describe the way I feel,’ the song goes.
She seems to me the first fair star of Eve,
With ocean eyes & smile of teeth pearl white,
And perfect curves like you wouldn’t believe,
My heart melteth at the sensual sight
Of beauty’s first essence, this I receive
In raptures, as we, by the Arno’s flight,
Converge as one ‘til comes the sad sundown –
‘Meet me in Rome,’ we kiss & she leaves town.
Heading down south on the click-clack train track,
At two AM the conductor finds me
With a bag of books, the rags on my back,
& in my hands a copy of Shelley;
Expecting some Hampshire inspector’s flak,
The guy, instead, showers me with pity –
Six hours later, the twilight before dawn,
I walk the streets of Rome waiting for morn.
I jump a tram this sunniest of days
Down into the tourist-laden city,
Upon the Spanish Steps I pause & laze
Then walk into a shrine of poetry;
It is true the true poet seldom pays,
Reciting a passage from my Shelley,
I get in for free, see hand at first hand,
For this & this only I’ll make my stand!
I sharpen my features & dress to impress,
Enter, by candlelit, the theatre,
Where dark, Grecian drama’s in deep progress,
Aha! There’s my marvelous Manuela,
My sexy, smilin’, stage-struttin’ actress,
I knew right then that I had to have her,
“You look beautiful, like a Silver Rose!”
That night… her hotel floor… our teeth-torn clothes.
With my lady sleepin’, thro’ the city,
I roam, dawning sun illumines the streets,
A peaceful Protestant cemetery,
& Shelley’s tower, where my Muse completes
Her visitation; left me tired, empty,
But wait! As I stood by the grave of Keats
I surge with strength to try the train-jump home,
& did one from the glory that was Rome.
I pass thro’ Pisa, glance at the Arno,
Chancing trains to an uncertain future,
Then once again view’d Viareggio,
Le Spezia, as, beyond Genoa,
Sunset spent in the streets of Torino,
There skipp’d on a train to the French border –
But travelin’ don’t always go to plan,
I’d fuck’d up & upended in Milan!
I was now sev’ral hundred miles of course,
& how it happen’d did not understand,
But youth is driven by a hidden force,
Which made me jump a train to Switzerland,
At whose harsh border found I smart resource –
For they had me rejected out of hand
(I look’d like a tramp) – after midnight, tense,
I found a wee rabbit-hole in the fence.
I felt like I’d escaped Colditz Castle,
But as I pass’d thro’ chocolate Zurich,
I was toss’d into a world of hassle,
The Swiss care not for buskers & their reek;
After lots of shouting & a wrestle,
I was plung’d in a police cell for my cheek,
But come sundown everything was sorted –
The next day I was to be deported!
They marched me on a fancy Swiss Air Jet,
Handcuff’d until the very last moment,
For I had slipped right thro’ their border net,
Back to my native island must be sent,
On fine French wine my flight was free from fret,
For thanks to their filthy rich government –
I carried massive bundles of Swiss Francs,
The dowry of their Nazi-lovin’ banks.
I thrill’d so much to drop down to Heathrow,
Tho’ from the wine a little worse for wear,
To Rosie’s boudoir hopefully I’ll go –
At first she gives me such a startl’d stare,
But soon romancing reconvenes its flow,
& fed her verses on a velvet air,
Said she, “Why don’t we take a bath, my sweet…”
With that hot wash this Grand Tour was complete.