January – Aidan Clarke

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A Right Royal Scandal

Heard about the toothpaste scandal?
Colgate.
and the baby food scandal?
Cow and Gate
and the Hugh Grant-Julia Roberts scandal?
Notting Hill Gate

Well, you may laugh,
but whenever there’s a scandal,
lazy journalists,
remembering Watergate,
just stick gate on the end.

Bloodgate Contragate. Irangate.
Camillagate. Nannygate
Murdochgate, Plebgate
Piggate Naggate Etceteragate

It’s an absolute disgrace
How do they get away with it?

Quick, it’s not too late.
Call it Gategate.

Investigate

 

 

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A Concise Cookery of History

The History Restaurant
offers a tired,
disappointingly limited
slow-food menu,
utilising the worst possible ingredients.

The waitress brings

a chunky soup
of all the sorrows
of the centuries,

a pizza
with a base of longing
for a new beginning
and a spicy topping
of false starts
without conviction,

a side-salad
of famine, illness, murder,
exile and piracy

and several pieces
of the bitter fruit
of countries racing
into war too soon
with an exquisite sauce
of mixed motives.

The presentation is appalling.

She puts the lot in a blender,
makes a blood-red liquid,
tells the diners
they have to sip it from a Holy Grail,
smiles at their consternation,
and adds,

Served like this,
it’s unutterably sacred
and nourishes nations.
It’s what we call
the real meal deal.

 

 

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Waiting on the Wind

The hawk hovers
with effortless stillness
above Tintagel Castle
as an Atlantic gale
batters the ruins,
but if you were to compliment him
on his extraordinary talent,
he’d smile modestly
and say,
No please,
it’s run of the mill,
something expected,
how I earn my corn.
It’s my job to hover in the wind
above the home
of Britain’s mythological hunger.

Along Tintagel High Street,
plastic Excaliburs look ridiculous
but can’t disguise a longing
for the historic heart of life.

The legend waits in the wings
hovering
while the great storms
gather and pass,
gather and pass

 

 

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The Wild Horse

Towards dawn the breeze freshens.
Branches dance to the beat of the waves.
In its stall the stallion wakens.

He longs to gallop along salt flats
beside shallow lakes
where flamingos gather in clouds of pink

He longs to race along deserted shores
into thinning morning mists
and endlessly opening horizons.

He longs to run among drumming hooves,
salt-caked mains
and eyes that see the wind.

He whinnies and kicks against walls
specifically designed
to resist those impulses.

His heart pulses with the pain of prison.

 

 

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Sir Francis Drake on Desert Island Discs

I suppose you hated the Spaniards?

Less than I hated the English journalists,
who made me into a national hero
for finishing a game of bowls.
Had the Armada won the day,
they would have hung me out to dry
for precisely the same scenario.
I can see the headlines now:-

Drake Bowled Over
Her Majesty Carpets Drake
Plymouth Ho Ho Ho
What a Load of Bowls

Why did you finish the game?

My preparations were complete.
The Spaniards, on their way, were not there yet.
To rush and fret would just have wasted strength.
It was a space with just a game to play,
a time with only this to say:
Be still. Focus. Gather force.

Did you learn anything from the bowls?

My last shot took me
from 2 down to 3 up
and won the match.
I knew with lightening clarity
everything changes in an instant.

Your last piece of music?

I’d like Sailing by Rod Stewart

 

 

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Spark

The premises currently occupied by Starbucks
opposite Newcastle Central Station.
were previously rented
by some sort of travel agents,
which kept a cardboard cut-out
of a cross channel ferry called
The Herald of Free Enterprise
in the window
where the armchairs are today.

It remained on view,
even after the real ship had capsized
at Zeebrugge
in March 1987
killing 193 passengers and crew.

The contrast between
this crowded café
and the memory
of the stranded hulk
in which those people drowned
makes me wince in sympathy,

I sip my tea
and send a spark of warmth
across the wine-dark sea.

 

 

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Window on the World

I’ve sat for an hour
at a round table
in a café window.

People, times and places
have thronged
on a circle of wood.

This small circle of wood
is an immense station
where journeys
intertwine and separate.

It’s a maternity wing,
airport, motorway services,
hospice and harbour,
dedicated to arrival and departure.

There are armies on the march.
Celebrities come and go.
It’s an avenue, a hill
and an ocean dotted with sails.

Above it all, a hawk hovers.

I’ve sat for an hour,
(or was it a lifetime?)
at a round table
in a café window,
listening to stories
told by every age
and every place.

 

 

 

Aidan Clarke was born in Glasgow but has lived in semi-exile in Newcastle Upon Tyne for most of his life. He likes to write in cafes.