Cause two sorts of envy, roughly.
The urban poor who slide their arm
round you in public, finger your assets,
slip them off, then stroll round
to their local Cash Converters.
Or petty-bourgeois snobs who sneer
‘cultured’ as if they could tell,
knowing the strings they calibrate
could be from a Jacques Cousteau location
or simulated & matched convincingly.
Both ache to be tanned & titled,
their inheritance snug in a vault
or behind a Rembrandt in a safe
whose security gallops the CID round
without any If it happens again.
Ownership is oblivious to envy,
treats insurance as property tax,
expects the Uniforms to hand out
lessons in geography & manners
to anyone who forgets their place.
Ringed & pierced nieces make videos
profiling women pearldivers in Japan.
Wearers marry into Corporate culture,
trophy wives in Transnationals whose
byproducts pollute the pearls’ habitat.
Their Family Trust owns the Jewellers
where cultured strings change hands.
Discretion is inscribed on AmEx slips.
Baroque and farmed are mere subtext here.
Who would be vulgar enough to ask?
Their names and forms are mediaeval.
Boys became men after seven years usage.
Now they lie jumbled on trays in Camden Lock
or shops in Upper St. with post-modern prices.
Paint has erased itself from handles,
wooden shafts have Old Masterly patinas,
more forlorn than ever they were in attics.
Who cares if they are rusty or incomplete ?
They are objects soaking up disposable income.
In action they shed oil, shavings, blood.
They adorn shelves in houses whose original
owners treated their handlers as tradesmen.
Even in homes which have been restored
to the specifications in House & Garde
these tools speak a foreign language
scorned by cowboy builders’ Estuary English.
Once, a careless hand picking up these tools
mimed the arcana of demarcation disputes.
—Now they are stripped of all mastery & craft;
electricity pours four men's work into one handle.
Knowing the right name, its possible use,
will impress dinner parties, might even turn
a two minute demo into a weekend project.
By Sunday evening, they are merely objects again.
The place in the dream is familiar,
a sepia scene where the trams turn
in a circle in the Vienna Woods.
I have never been there in real life
any more than say, San Francisco,
another city I could navigate via films
or reconstruct stone by stone from books.
I have a strong and aching memory
of leaning against the rear rail
of the tram talking to a pretty girl.
In Dutch she would be geze11ige.
I cannot think of the German equivalent
nor what her name might have been
even though we had just kissed,
might have been lovers, our soundtrack
a Strauss waltz, called I believe,
Geschichten aus dem Wiener Wald,
the narrative borrowed from Kafka
or Freud as you choose. The clothes
make it pre-war, but which war,
the sepia tinge implies nostalgia,
slow tempos, good manners, not Harry Lime’s
shifty paranoia. As dawn approaches
I know the film is running out even though
I am still asleep. I hope to meet
this girl again, learn her name, perhaps
take her father for a beer, but for now,
the tram starts up again, she steps off,
and walks away not looking back
up the moonlit road running into the woods.
I must go down to the sea again, / To the lonely sea
and the sky / And all I ask is a tall ship / And a star
to steer her by (John Masefield, "Sea Fever")
It took an August stroll round Howth harbour
to bring back the last summer we went to Girvan.
I was 13 and self-conscious about clothes,
the impression I might make on whoever I met
making the circuit of amusement arcades,
pitch & putt courses, cafes, gift shops,
But most of all it’s the trawlers I remember,
serious working boats with dour crews
who had important tasks to attend to,
who were not about to invite me on board
for tea & tales about their lives at sea,
out in all weathers far into the Atlantic
On boats with large numbers & traditional names
on the stern, rust and radar, any number of ways
to lose fingers or an arm winning the fish
into the nets, into the holds, onto the quay,
for the auctioneer to chant away to Billingsgate
or Glasgow, and on to the nation’s table.
I never wanted to go to sea, but was still
fascinated by the compound smells rising up,
the thought that my ancestors had done this
or something very like it on wooden boats
with no engines, no radar, no weather reports,
nothing but their own muscle, skill and luck,
And like them I cannot swim, know how to refer
to the departed or lost at sea, know which animal
never to name or the pub will empty, but here,
I stand before 90 feet of hi-tech yacht from
Seattle with the tallest mast I have ever seen,
a glamour of questions, that Masefield poem.
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