Grime hangs in London’s unlit streets
away from the gleam of white stone Aldwych
shy St Martin-in-the-Fields behind
a bridal veil embroidered with plane leaves
the dazzle of downward lines reflected on the Thames
from the blue, red, green South Bank
the baubles of the boats
and the owlish eyes of Big Ben.
I’m scrolling backwards now: I began in a
frantic fruitless race to meet my daughter’s plane
on the worst night of the year. A torrent of
yellow Lycra would be coming through the centre of town
on the morrow; trains were disrupted already,
at midnight on Sunday. Through the liquid flares of light
in my livid tears I hopped from Elephant & Castle
to Westminster (that travelcard bought
from the rosy-eyed skaghead at London Bridge
for 2 quid proved a godsend) and from there I walked
along Embankment, alone and daughter-less,
hunting down a lesser-spotted
Night Bus to Hackney.
(That day I’d been rugby-tackling 12 kids
into doing creative writing; the only thing
that seemed to grab them was the circular poem,
written on one face of a mobius strip.
It was a clever trick but paused thoughts,
the sentence cycling under eye
like a pavement that keeps returning.)
Under the bridge the foothpath was closed for works;
veering into the road a brilliant white coach slowed
as it passed me, just as the yellow LED
ticker tape read: …to GODWARD ST.
I wanted to shout Ya Aziz! I call You and You answer!
Now my feet clicked on merrier, nose picking up an old scent:
there was Savoy Street – I was where I understood.
Rounding Aldwych, a Scottish lass with gushing bloodied knee
staggering and laughing, a flurry of people
wide-eyed and foolish, shoelaces undone
with a sheen of vodka, I was safe
on a very British belvedere among Russians
Bengalis and Koreans with maps.
I took the N26 towards Chingford and from the top deck
we passed Godliman Street, too.
For a city that scorns belief it is Threadneedled into its map,
a Strand of awe stitched through its Petticoat,
a Bishop at one gate, a Moor at the other.
Once the protective shine of tourist attractions
gave way to Cambridge Heath and Columbia Rd,
despite its Decent International store,
the gloom lurked in to leer at the lost.
Tattery fringes hung from mislit lamps;
a man wheeled past an amp, his friend
with blue ink smudged on his cheek wished me
a dreary ‘Bo selecta’.
All the while my company
was a Senegalese dhikr, of Allah and nothing else,
an ever-repeating refrain on mobius lips.