City Lights

A mile away the city lights –

The ancient, banking city, lit

With red and white and sure to fit

All today’s money – those clear sights


Which stand on towers stood to the South

One half the distance to my school,

They blink and glimmer like the pool

Reflecting stars from night’s broad mouth.


From here I see them every dusk

And every morning, if I rise,

They shine beneath plane-brightened sies,

They flood the morning like rich musk,


A smell of money?  Or of time?

Perhaps of youth?  But none I know,

The choices I took long ago

Forewent this wealth, undid this crime


To eat while others starved and cried,

I chose to eat the children’s bread

And rest upon a narrow bed

That barely rests me on my side.


But then it was no choice for me –

There never was an enchantment

About the interests money lent

So how can I claim virtue’s fee?


Our hearts each lead us where our minds

Can tell us that our calling dwells

And all the lies that rumour tells

Are as the rusted swords time finds.


As years pass, they seem less and less,

All worn by soil, by water, salt,

And distant tongues grow hard and halt

While living words grow and possess.

Lines from the British Museum I

The coin, a double-dozen thousand years,

Each year three hundred, sixty-five mornings,

Each morning, someone rising, the owner

Of a silver owl and a goddess’s head,

Unless it slept in soil somewhere.  But this,

The bright and heavy star, lost from its night,

Dropped from the dark, surely wasn’t hidden

Or let go, ever, was it?  So warm

Like just out of the pocket of a man

A double-dozen thousand years ago

And in a dusty land.  So bright, the polish

Of finger-sweat and greed still thick on it.

And even if it lay somewhere, still owned

By someone, or the heir and son, someone

Who didn’t know that this was his bequest

While it was locked in a box or folded

In heavy cloth, wrapped pocket-wise, forgot.

Can we even forget silver?  Are we

So rushed and careless, so full of hurry?

An element unseen, unfelt, like quarks,

Detectable by reflection and effect,

Its signature a half-life of regret…

If he had pride in striking such a picture,

Twice, once on either side, and then the man

Who cast it, glee to see the metal flow,

Then where is your treasuring, O tourist,

O passing tourist in this museum world?

Your stool was well-designed, gave pleasure, pay

To someone still living, his name not unknown!

Your trousers, brooch and boots are all silver.

To honour strangers perhaps we should strip

And put our clothes on slowly, prayerfully,

Again, instead of hurriedly dressing

In the morning’s mist of barely-slept sleep.

The prayerful life is a life well-lived,

The worshipful life one of peace and thanks,

The good news life looks with Jesus’ eyes

On the world that we make with our hands.