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Royal Festival Hall (Level 5), Southbank Centre, LondonOpen Tuesday - Sunday from 11am to 8pm
© Robert Richardson (1990)
If a new start can be made
in an old place
this should do fine
City of broken clocks,
skyscape of cranes,
roads that give way,
houses that disappear
I lie awake, afraid
of a sleepwalk that would bring me
along paths that used to be,
across a new motorway
Yet you would take my hand
and lead me every time
by different streets
to the same kissing-doorway
in their throes,
praiseach, the flowers that bloom
on a building site,
one clear vision of colour
I dream of you saying,
why try to square it?
Let things have their way
Four a.m. Night is greasing the streets.
The breath of all the sleeping people
hangs over town and I wait on red
at deserted crossroads for nobody.
The moon is tangled in a net of clouds.
I will go back to bed, and you
will sleep on the plane.
I will wake up to the familiar
– the heating coming on,
creaking and stretching
like you when prodded awake,
muttering and grumbling
like you at the petty autocracy of a clock.
I will hear life in its arteries,
the audible thump of its heart,
feel how the wood under my bare feet
has the warmth of skin.
Lying asleep walking
Last night I met my father
Who seemed pleased to see me.
He wanted to speak.
Dad, what are you doing with the machine?
You should have no need of it now you’re dead.
This is my son you never met, connected
This side of the rust. What force of dream
Allows the three of us to push a machine up a hill?
No. It is only to the base of the hill we need to go.
My brother goes ahead, ill-endowed with purpose,
As you stop us with a nerved hand, cubed with gold.
Why are we standing here, the three of us,
You fourteen years dead & my son still a boy?
Can you come back now? We’ve been waiting for you.
I told my son the story of you & the stale milk.
He’s happy I think, but there’s been a blank piece
For as long as you’ve been gone from this place.
It was Christmas day you climbed that tree
With a hipflask of vodka & a Holla to the wind.
What are we doing with this machine in any case?
As acid as sap the rust has ceased.
It is stranger than blood that you had to meet
Your grandson across the picket fence of my sleep.
The three of us held on to the machine.
It didn’t lose purchase on the slope.
Dad, where are you taking the machine now?
Is this death when you keep the machine for yourself?
You’ve made us redundant in this landscape, bleatfast with snow.
We watch you attach the machine to a motorway
And punch a first from the window as you speed into orbital.
The machine you’ve taken gave us such purpose.
What are we supposed to do now?
The keys are clenched in my son’s tight fist.