Jogging Round a Polish Park
And off we go, along the lane,
the roses bleeding, gushing red
across the left side of my brain
as terriers chase tennis balls
into a crashing, rippling pond.
What’s that? Some kind of avant-garde
distorted Easter Island statue.
I wonder what inspired that.
Some pine trees with their trunks all knobbly.
Two girls, one pink, one mauve, on scooters.
Kneepad-clad, zigzagging skaters.
“Dobry.” Zigzag. Skate. “Dzien Dobry.”
Grey concrete drowns in orange, green,
cyan, maroon, magenta, yellow.
Hopscotch. Triple-scooped ice-cream
with flake. Two llamas. Alien spacecraft.
Signed Milena and Joana.
Could I, one hazy far-off day
and in a hope-fuelled, love-plump manner,
propel such innocent, sweet life,
young life ablaze with wide-eyed joy,
into this fake, demonic world?
Could I, one day, help mould a boy
into a man, as long ago
my fearless, knuckle-brandishing,
cavorting, lager-drenched non-father
never tried to do for me?
I’d plonk him in a dojo or
a boxing ring, I’d tie his gloves,
I’d tighten his each darkening belt,
I’d glaze him in a uniform,
though only for a year or two.
I’d nudge him manwards with a shove.
Such pride, such rushing pride I’d feel!
“Be tough, my son. This world is tough,
it’s full of lunging, squeezing scumbags,
oh my boy, don’t let them hurt you!”
Dear Christ, I don’t want British children,
sick demented nouveau-bourgeois
British children squealing, dribbling
on and on about their bulging,
radiating moral virtue,
never though displaying love,
authentic love for humankind
or lifting up a pinkie finger
to assist one single soul
except their rotten pampered selves,
their empathy a fleeting phantom.
If children come, God, make them Slavic.
But every eardrum-stabbing tantrum,
nappy-stench and sight of shit
reminds me, “No, I cannot do it.”
Turn left here, down the twiggy, barky,
helicopter seed-strewn dirt track.
Dusty molehills sprout in random
blobs of subterranean powder.
What do helicopters drop from,
sycamores? Not sure. Or maples?
Orbs of mistletoe and birds’ nests
jostle for branch-dominance
like billiard balls on leafy baize.
The mistletoe is shrivelling now though,
sagging like old ladies’ titties.
Tits are bickering with jays
as magpies flap and swoop and bluster,
bullying the fat woodpigeons.
Clang, clang! What sort of cutlery
can that be? Clang, thump, thump, clang, clang,
as three young men with time-defying
swords and wooden shields clang-thump
each other with the subtlety
of lions plunging famished teeth
in zebra-meat. They’re clad in chain mail,
metal helmets, armour, shinpads,
shorts and luminous lime-green trainers.
An archipelago of pine cones,
daisies, cigarette-ends, beer cans
(Tyskie, Carlsberg, Lech) beneath
a candy-floss of emerald hedgehogs
on a mossy, spindly stick.
Then onward, through a cloud of midges
and a swamp of crashing leaves,
towards the bats’ and spirits’ realm.
Back onto concrete. Up it heaves
in cracking, bumpy, snaking ridges.
Underneath, the roots exhale,
they puff and pant, “You can’t defeat us!
Man, you cannot smother us
with your synthetic passageways!”
and crawl along the wrinkly surface,
ferrying refreshment to
these fortresses of oak and elm
across which wrens and sparrows chirrup.
Stone crosses. Lanterns, candles flicker
with their transcendental purpose.
Jesus with a radiating,
beaming heart. A headless cherub
kneels in stony solemn prayer
for Stanisław, Kasienka, Grzegorz,
Do their great-grandchildren still care?
Behind the plaques and holy virgins,
a vigilant hare outpaces me.
Puff, pant. Come on. Puff, pant. Come on,
we’re nearly there. First stopping point.
Lichen-sleeved and gnarly birches
bend like old men’s spines, contorting,
out of shape, a bit like me.
Come on, come on. Puff, pant. Keep going.
Now some godless graves. Black stars
on cubes on stumpy concrete pillars,
grey eternal anti-churches.
Battle sculpture, huge bouquet
that flutters in the morning breeze.
Cyrillic script. Can’t see the names.
Black marble obelisk, gold star.
Gepoy? Geroy! What’s a geroy?
There’s the wall. Caress the wall
and stop. Catch breath. Swig water. Wheeze.
Wipe sweat off head with t-shirt. Gasp.
My heart is thumping like a mallet.
Lean forward. Stretch those calves. And rest.
Left ankle up behind, now right.
That bush would make a decent toilet.
What’s this? A British cemetery!
Whole lines of murder. Private Simpson,
Royal Norfolk Regiment,
and Flight Lieutenant Clarke, a pilot!
Fusilier V. Rigby, died
aged twenty-five, of Lancashire.
Who were they, prisoners of war,
escape plans scuppered by a bullet?
Is this the same Lancastrian blood
as Fusilier Lee Rigby, died
aged twenty-five on Woolwich streets,
head hacked off by a sick jihadist?
Of all the fruitless, foolish feats
of humankind is war the saddest.
On and on and on it squashes.
And off we go again, uphill,
come on, Sir Edmund, to the peak,
past rows of skulls and vertebrae
that once were fearless Polish men,
were passion-bulging boys of only
twenty-one or twenty-two.
God rest you, lads. Now find your way.
May those who made your parents lonely
rot in some fat bankers’ hell.
Now back out on the open green.
Aha! A dizzy loofah-tailed
noble nibbling ginger tree-rat
balanced on his red hind footlets
like an undernourished meerkat!
Little twitching sentinel,
what are you scouting for, my friend?
Away he darts, across the pathway
faster than a bourgeois liberal
choosing “racist” as an insult,
off he speeds, a Labrador
in hungry, thundering pursuit.
Who’ll win the race to that great oak?
Christ, that was close. The beast in red
was just a prostitute’s commute
away from being even redder.
Never mind, unlucky dog,
there’s always next time. Perseverance,
that’s what’s needed. Don’t give up,
however much this world of reptiles
tries to slice your soul to ribbons,
plots and schemes to stick Vivaldi
in a baseball cap and name-badge,
tries to trap Lord Byron in
a cage of slogan-screeching gibbons.
Up, up again, Sir Edmund, up
and onwards, past these orange berries,
immature redcurrants maybe,
across this flattened tree-stump crushed
to wooden shards, up, up and through
the rooty, stony, nettley grass.
Two other joggers, wrapped in lycra,
sporting flatter, healthier bellies.
“Dobry.” “Dobry”. Jog, pant. “Cheshch.”
Must try harder. Have to flush
this flab right down the gravy pipe,
these biceps have to bulge my flesh,
charge out like meaty regiments,
they have to smash and bash like bombs.
Four stone-faced, hammered, sickled, red
pallbearers prop a coffin up.
Poor Russia! Twenty-something million
of their handsome people dead
in order to swat down four fifths
of all the Führer’s wound-up minions.
Hero! “Geroy” must mean “Hero”!
Damn it, all those geroys wound up
full of holes and underground.
Out on the field, young muscly husbands
clad in football shorts fling frisbees
at their dumpling-podgy children.
Mmm, pierogi, nice and crispy.
Rigging, speakers, microphones
and beer tents. Concert? Festival?
Ah, Mother Russia, frozen scapegoat,
slandered paper bogeyman,
heroic whistleblowers’ shelter,
Edward Snowden’s warm escape route,
while the bitterer-than-grapefruit
sneering traitors down in Brussels
shake their blood-drained, cum-stained fists,
oh, Russia! Feather-cushioned couch
of Dostoyevsky, Shostakovich,
Tereshkova and Gagarin,
where the drowsy brown bear nestles
waiting for his waking hour,
Russia! Hidden comrade, cousin,
fattest, maddest, easternmost
in our vast culture’s flail-armed jostles,
cradle of the Indo-Aryan,
defiant rebel, master, self-boss,
victor from Sevastopol
to Vladivostok. Nowadays,
who here is the belligerent?
It isn’t you. Ah, Mother Russia,
could I, some decisive morning,
dare to dive into your icy,
caviar-strewn, drunken ocean?
Could I, some day, pitch a tent
upon your frozen, friendly surface?
Up and down a hairpin bend,
then over gravel to a playpark.
Sandpit, seesaw, roundabout,
crawling tube, horse on a spring.
A chessboard of square flower beds
in crimson, yellow, purple, white.
Fat bumblebees dive hither and thither.
Valda, cuddly, pretty Valda,
venturer to London Town
from up on the Daugava river,
I remember clear and bright
that day, while drinking honey beer,
a bumblebee drawn on its label.
“Seriously? It’s made of bees?”
Oh yes, I’d said, we grind them down
and turn them into Bumblebeer,
an ancient English recipe,
the English word ‘beer’ comes from ‘bee’.
Oh, bless you, sweet, curvaceous Valda.
That time you climbed a chair and screamed,
imploring me with shoe in hand
to turn into a mindless killer.
You almost had me battering
a guiltless little caterpillar
till I woke up from your spell
and ferried him to grassy safety.
I wonder what you’re doing now.
Oh, Slavic, Baltic beauties, tasty
women of the Eastern plains,
can it be true, as I have heard,
that you are nothing like the soulless,
selfish sluts we have out West?
Can it be true you yearn for love,
that you possess both hearts and brains,
that you are human to your cores,
that passion boils behind your breasts?
Or are you power-hungry whores,
just money-snatching egoists
and pompous preaching hypocrites,
your hollow heads wedged up your arses
like our boring Western mingers?
I live in hope. I live in hope.
Without that hope, I’d slash my wrists.
Ah, here’s the amphitheatre,
a fan of grass-enfolded concrete
mixed with ferns and heliotropes
and patterned with old seat-supports
lined up like Soviet space invaders
gripped by, down the hill, a fist
of uncut grass and dandelions.
What would have boomed across that stage
beneath the clouds and isotopes
back in the booming, level-waged,
The Cherry Orchard? Animal Farm?
And, zigzag down the sandy slope.
Nettles. Squirrels. Buttercups.
And, slalom round the molehilled hills
along the fort’s red-orange wall.
Its deep black eyes are peeping, tired
and cobwebbed, from the sullen earth.
Two old ladies, litter-picking?
Nordic walking, one with Pope
emblazoned on her well-milked chest,
well-milked from Catholic birth on birth.
John Paul the Second, obviously.
The cool Pope. Yeah, the groovy one.
What did you do for Africa
about the modern plague though, John?
If I was Pope I’d snort fat lines
and bring reincarnation back.
Who was that scholar, Origen?
I catch a fragment of their chat
that whistles past beneath the pines,
just one word comprehended: pshishwoshch.
Future. Sounds like pish. And hogwash.
The future is a load of pshishwoshch.
Take it with a laxative,
a shrodek pshechishchayahncy, as
the Poles would strangely choose to say.
And, stop. Caress the banister.
My legs are just about to give.
Wipe that pond of sweat away.
Gulp water like a dishwasher.
And stretch those muscles. Bend those knees.
A spiral staircase vanishes
in pulped and straggling shreds of trees
beneath the earth, just disappears
beneath a canopy of roots
and bulbs, down into soily nothing.
What was this place? A stammlager?
Keep going. Up the concrete steps.
Keep trudging forward. Pant, gasp, wheeze.
Away we go. Past wooden benches
with Ukrainian names carved in.
Dimitri loves Oksana. Well,
good luck with that. You’ll need it, mate.
The footpath cracks in fissures like
the palm of an octogenarian’s hand.
They widen into rippling trenches.
Grass and moss and life peek through.
Whole tribes of ants pour out and fidget.
Nature always wins, the land
is swallowed up, like in Pripyat
where car parks turn to bramble gardens,
swimming pools are haunts for wolves,
the ferris wheel’s harangued by fir trees.
Beep, beep, beep. Don’t eat the apples.
Wow, what’s that? A furry midget
scurrying across the lawn!
A ferret? Or is it a polecat?
Ha ha! Polecat! Polish polecat!
Will these people ever heal?
Will they one day forget the bruise
of German rifles, Russian tanks,
Ukrainian pointed bayonets?
Of Chamberlain’s imaginary
helping hand, his hollow threats
that couldn’t frighten off a goose,
not when you’re just a paper lion,
not when you’re a unicorn,
a sickly withered senile badger
yelping, hissing weasel words.
But Hitler didn’t lose the war.
The Europeans lost the war.
The German and the British people.
Mere dispensable toy soldiers.
The French, Italians, Poles and Russians,
all of them – deceived, deceived,
led off to pointless slaughter by
the power-grasping powers that be.
Slaughtered to remake the world.
Brother nations. Sister cultures.
Nearly there. I’m almost there.
Speed up, speed up, just one last burst,
as fast as you can run, come on!
Around the corner. Mind the snail.
Pump that muscle, kill that beer-flab!
There’s the line. Caress the line.
And rest. And rest. And rest. Exhale.