Open 11am to 8pm
Royal Festival Hall (Level 5), Southbank Centre, LondonOpen Tuesday - Sunday from 11am to 8pm
Artwork by Paul Peter Piech, 1993. Words by Meic Stephens. © the Estate of Paul Peter Piech
I came to Geneva
by the bullet train,
up from church kero lamps -
it must have been the bullet train.
I rolled in on a Sunday
to that jewelled circling city
and everything was closed
in the old-fashioned way.
In the city of Palais
and moored Secretariat
I arrived in spring when
the Ferraris come out.
Geneva, refuge of the Huguenots,
Courtauld, Pierrepoint, Haszard,
Boers Joubert and Marais,
Brunel’s young Isambard
and John Calvin, unforgiver
in your Taliban hat
you pervade bare St Peter's
in la France protestante,
Calvin, padlock of the sabbath,
your followers now protect you:
predestination wasn’t yours, they claim,
nor were the Elect you,
but: when you were God
sermons went on all day
without numen or presence.
Children were denied play.
I had fun with your moral snobbery
but your great work's your recruits,
your Winners and Losers. You
turned mankind into suits -
and many denims, messer John.
for Lloyd Haft
I was in a very dark place then,
the poet said, as he handed
me the volume and I can tell
from the lines that he thought,
this is it, how to get used to it.
London is getting ready for leaf,
for night, like us moving
in the lit up bus for warmth
beneath a dented moon.
Cranes guard Waterloo Bridge
where a woman swings a banana skin
by the stalk, seen through the smudge
of grease from a rested head. The man
beside me eyes my red leather shoes
and white ankles – no tights.
I am not coming home from work,
I am coming home from reading.
You can hum and think at the same time.
You can be in the city’s belly
and sit in deep silence.
I pass out of the bus behind
my neighbour and could call to him
but the city has not healed me enough.
He walks ahead in a grey suit,
fingers already playing the piano,
as if counting up his secret joys.
I’m singing, ‘Yellow River,
Yellow River, you’re in my mind,
you’re the place I love’,
and am half-way through the chorus
before I realise it.