Like a cat, I beat with sweat
the bounds of home: it is the stride
on flagstones, gravel, city road;
it’s the capacity of lungs
to hoist tired legs up to the moor;
the lift of stinging eyelids
to observe goldfinches flurry
from a dry stone wall, watch swallows
dart between taut wires;
it’s to grasp these sheets of sky
and stuff my vision with the hills:
own none of it at all, and call it mine.
A scrunch of rusting wire, a wonky iron gate
wedged open, rooted in place by brambles.
An apple-yellow afternoon. We arrived
at a huddle of houses where the track forked,
dead-ending alpine meadows. September
crocuses pinked the pasture, cows ambled,
plaster peeled from a police post.
The Rhodope mountain trail petered out
like the summer, all oozing plums
and idling wasps, rakia fermenting on the farms,
a skitter of lizards. This was the border.
On one side, bristling pines, the other –
just the same. We jumped from side
to side – Bulgaria! Greece! Greece! Bulgaria!
There was no difference. The air was limp
in either jurisdiction, an afternoon made
for meanderings of boot and conversation.
We found a mural of a guard, Kalashnikov
at the ready, face merging into mouldering render.
A cowbell tinkled. The sky was blue as sleep.
Once, someone would have shot us if we’d crossed.
The shudder always happens in my sleep.
Road signs, junctions, cat’s-eyes; pairs
of red squares in the night crawl closer.
A hypnotic hum of tyres on tarmac.
Never a hospital bed, never the blazing white
of surgery. Only a flickering of eyelids,
silent swish of metal, an exaggerated swerve
as brakes lock. An endlessly repeated motion
half a second before impact. Half a second
with the verge two yards too close,
the darkness two degrees too warm, the letters
on the tail-lights curiously readable.
Jane Jacobs (1916-2006)
A waking town. The ballet of the streets.
A window, and her glasses thick
as Hudson River ice. She watched.
She noted Mr Halpert. His particular flick
to unhook the wooden laundry cart, the way
the sheets and blankets billowed in its wake.
She saw the barber step out, swapping hearsay
as he placed his folding chair out in the sun.
Joe’s son-in-law stacked crates and trays
at the Italian deli. Mr Goldstein’s coiled wire shone
outside his hardware store. Like a hymn
each morning ritual said we’re here, we’re open.
Greenwich Village breathed out, stretched its limbs.
The toddler on the step drank New York slang,
drew neighbours’ smiles with a toy mandolin.
She saw dancing in it all: the yells, the bang
of hurried doors, a stroll across the grass.
Everywhere she watched, the city rang.
Bourbon in hand, perched at the White Horse,
ash dropping from a cigarette, she’d check
the city’s temperature in a single glass.
One watching woman, with thick specs.
A mayor, a plan, big bucks. Jane understood
and stood. She stopped expressways in their tracks.
Jane Jacobs is remembered as one of the seminal thinkers in 20th century urban planning
Julian Dobson, who lives in Sheffield, has been known to walk into lampposts while his mind is elsewhere. He recently won Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (April/May 2015). Julian’s poetry blog is at 52poemsinayear.wordpress.com