A press of metal on metal,
the simplest trick
and yet the most important,
so soft and true we might be starting
on runners in the snow,
leaning something heavy against a tree.
Any man’s walk, his run, now a dash
by a free horse, steady, incrementing
around a bend and we are travelling.
A thrown switch disconnects the canal
and relays it, a pulse flexing
now on our right, showing its dark water
to the blooming sky.
Striped fields and woodland,
we burst behind a village into a sheep valley,
white smoke betrays a narrow boat.
We shatter what we find, and are gone.
At Hungerford bankers board the train wearing covet coats.
Feeling sartorial we enter bog-country
the grazing dyked and eel-trodden,
woodland floored with floodwater.
The river swings close,
shows itself handsome and lights out.
‘This is not England’ shouts a mad man
who joined the train at Plymouth.
By Berkshire hawthorn the train halts.
Our backs to what comes next
we sit, and suddenly we are summoned in –
over the red rooves,
over the unfinished business of a bus depot
to take the town on an embankment.
In Reading station we are overwhelmed.
A strange canal reflects graffiti,
Buried tubes of optical fibre
flash entire histories,
values amounting to one million lifetimes
pulse beneath our feet, leave us overhead,
to inform the globe.
At Paddington a final gathering-in,
like a fist gripping rope,
sinews tying muscle to bone.
The canal, cul de sacked,
stands water, a filthy mirror
to the silver and gold of world headquarters.
Overhead, water-stained, arcs the Westway
bringing in fresh material.