from Claiming Kindred
Thirteen Ways of Looking at Birmingham
Imagine being poor bloody Jerusalem,
Unsmilingly screwed by three inexhaustible lovers.
Wouldn't it be much better to be Birmingham,
Over-rated by nobody?
In the centre of Birmingham there is a square in which there is no traffic,
Presided over by a huge naked woman from whose hands flows water continually,
And the inhabitants of Birmingham walk up and down, or stand very still pretending to be
statues of policemen,
Or they march about grinning and banging tambourines and chanting Hare Rama.
The inhabitants of Birmingham look rather prosperous without being at all ostentatious
And its young women smile unexpectedly as they pass pensive poets.
Well, Jerusalem is what it is, I dare say, and no doubt the same was true of Alexandria,
And Nineveh had a big reputation once though its ultimate fate was deplorable,
But let no-one say anything in disparagement of Birmingham
Birmingham thou art the flower of cities all.
My mother's mother was the butcher's daughter
My mother's father was a shoemaker.
Those large families, in flat Northamptonshire,
Put out runners and tendrils all across the Midlands:
Alice, Nellie, Frank, Jack, Percy...
- Only my mother like the albatross
Crossed the great water, left behind
Those unmet cousins.
Sometimes I brush past them, I think,
Strolling through Birmingham.
Marestail, or Priest's Prick (p. 43)
When he was a boy, in the pious village,
The man who could turn dumb bread into living flesh
Was a magician! You could forget driving tractors
Or milking cows, those rather mucky activities —
The man in the black dress, with the plump hands
And the lovely, moderate voice, he was the one to resemble!
He clung to his mother. And there was the mysterious celibacy.
That was better as well. It was something to do with soap
And Sunday mornings when he could gorge on the feeling of goodness,
Walking toward the tolling bell
In clean clothes, hair burnished, holding the beautiful ruby-red prayer-book...
- Later, he realised he had never believed a word of it.
And he enjoyed describing that persistent weed, the marestail,
As priest's prick, always getting in if you don't pay proper attention.
Christian Theology (p. 71)
The fly that has to negotiate this orchid
Is weary with the complication of the trumpet,
The baroque pistils, the astounding stamens,
- But reaches, finally, the drop of nectar...
© D. M. Black