This is the Suburb

This is the Suburb

The houses lined up like birthday cakes:
brick cubes covered in cream-coloured paint,
brick cubes covered in brick-coloured paint,
giraffe-neck chimneys as quaint decorations.

The gardens stretching like flower-boxes,
each bush in blossom a witness to life,
the trees at the corners picked from a toy box,
perfectly round and perfectly green.

This is the suburb. If only you saw it
the very first time, descended from Mars,
flown in from the desert, arrived from abroad,
you’d clap your hands in wonder and joy!

Christina Egan © 2017

Front gardens with brick walls, flower pots, rose tree.

Photograph: Christina Egan © 2013.

England’s endless rows of terraced homes and front gardens, the brick walls and painted ledges and long chimneys — insignificant or actually invisible to their inhabitants beg to be photographed by the strolling visitor or newcomer.

The all-year-round greenery and the abundant flowers in England — even around the giant capital city — will amaze those whose home countries are hotter and drier or else colder and harsher, or whose cities have less green and more stone.

I have read that an immigrant from Bangladesh asked herself if English people are poor because many did not paint their brick houses! I have heard of other Central Europeans who, like myself, took the spring flowers in front of public buildings for artificial ones!

Suburban traffic jam / Vorstadtstau

Suburban traffic jam

It’s raining, the traffic is creeping,
the morning is seeping away…
The bus windows seem to be weeping
at boundless suburban grey.

Yet should a grenade or a comet
now strike us, as if to sift –
I’d meet my death as a poet,
I’ve smiled and I’ve breathed and I’ve lived!

Christina Egan © 2015


Vorstadtstau

Es regnet… Minuten verrinnen
im Vorstadtstau, Stoßzeitstau…
Die Autobusfenster verschwimmen
im uferlos traurigen Grau.

Und sollte der Tod uns jetzt lichten
– Granate oder Komet –
so hab’ ich gelächelt, gedichtet,
so hab’ ich geatmet, gelebt!

Christina Egan © 2015


These thoughts came to me on a bus near the spot in London where a man was shot dead by gangsters in 2015; no one has been charged with the crime. In 2016, another man was shot dead nearby by police. Later that year, another man was stabbed to death just down the road, near Wood Green Station.

Moreover, many terrorist attacks have happened in Europe, and many more have been prevented in London alone; but more are bound to afflict us.

House of Books

Drawing of the mechanics of a loom (yarn on rolls, without the frame)House of Books
(British Library)

On the grey carpet,
grey shapes intersect,
shadows of shoulders,
of hands, of heads:
minds overlapping
for a moment.

From the white walls,
rapid shuttles ricochet,
shiny yarns interweave:
Very large bookcase with foldable desk surface and chained volumes (drawing)threads of voice,
trains of thought,
embroidering the air.

Built of a million bricks
glowing at the ashen junction
is the House of Books;
built of a million minds
is the fabric of the pages,
of the screens, of the scrolls.

Christina Egan © 2017

Illustrations of Loom and
Bookcase from the Wikimedia

Ripples of People

Ripples of People
(Spring Equinox)

*

Ripples of people,
uneven waves, sudden whirls,
fast currents of cars:
a wayward river within
a canyon of grand buildings.

*

These neat white windows,
row upon row, road after road,
a thousand eyes
trying to catch light, praying
to touch the feeble sunset.

*

Christina Egan © 2013

Busy junction in the dusk, with red and yellow lamps of cars and buses glaring.

These tanka were written in Knightsbridge, London,
in the last days of March — after equinox! —
when after months of dull and dark skies,
you may still be desperate for light and warmth.
For similar poems in German, see Alles drängt vorwärts.

Photograph: Deptford Broadway, London.
Michael Oakes © 2016

The City Lit Up

The City Lit Up

I lived between Ilex and Salix,
just north of Londinium Town,
and sometimes I climbed to the moss-well
between the oaks and looked down.

I looked at the thatch and the roof-tiles,
as red as the embers beneath,
I looked at the timber and marble,
the highways connecting the heath,

the gates, the walls and the broad bridge,
the fields afloat on the clay;
and I wondered if London would stretch
as vast as the valley one day,

Pond in park, surrounded by bare trees, with tiny island

as vast as Rome, which had risen
from marshes and slopes long ago,
with columns touching the heavens
because the gods willed it so;

and if Rome could ever be shrinking
and sinking into the bog,
or London be burning or flooding
and melting into the fog…

The city lit up in the sunset
and faded away in the dusk;
I felt the chill in the oak-wood,
and down to my villa I rushed.

I entered the gate by the willows
and strode through the dolphins’ yard,
I passed the flickering torches
and stopped by my forefathers’ hearth.

Roman mosaic of a mansion

My name was Appius Felix,
an heir to Aeneas of Troy;
I kept the seals and the idols
to pass them on to my boy.

I used the sword and the saddle,
I held the lyre and quill.
I lived between Ilex and Salix,
at the foot of the Moss-Well Hill.

Christina Egan © 2016


As you can see from the 100-metre-high summit of the Muswell Hill, London does stretch for many miles nowadays, filling the valley to both sides of the meandering River Thames.

You will also notice that there are large patches of green everywhere, some of them left over from ancient marshland and woodland. If you know your way, you can walk across London through woods and meadows, across hills and along rivers for miles!

My Roman observer lives in modern-day Wood Green or Bounds Green, near fictitious hamlets or villas called Ilex (holly or oak) and Salix (willow or osier).

This man firmly believes that gods guard his city and his country and that spirits guard his home and his family. He pursues some useful career in the service of the Empire, but he is also a bit of a poet.

I named him Appius after the statesman of the Republic who had contributed so much to Rome’s infrastructure as well as intellectual life, and Felix because he counts himself lucky.


 

You can find more on Londinium’s fortifications at Ode to London Wall  and more about its straight or winding highways at Quo vadis?

Photographs: Country villa, late Roman mosaic, Bardo Museum, Tunis. —  Pond in Tottenham, North London. Christina Egan © 2014

Die Fluten der Stadt

Die Fluten der Stadt

I.

Vor meinem Fenster rauscht die späte Stadt
und glitzert auf im Vollmond, schwarzes Meer;
sie spült Millionen Menschen hin und her,
spielt Fangen, nimmermüd und nimmersatt.
In ihrem Brausen höre ich Willkommen
und lasse mich auf ihren Wellen treiben.
Die Sternbilder der Leuchtreklamen schreiben
sich unter meine Lider… schon zerronnen.
Und nie allein: weil ich alleine bin,
zu Haus im selben Sehnsuchtsleitmotiv
wie jeder andre aufgewühlte Sinn.
Was immer schon in meinen Gliedern schlief,
schäumt ungebärdig zu den Sternen hin:
Ich will dich, will dich wild und meerestief.

II.

Auf vielen Brücken stand ich, ausgespannt
von Stahl und Stein an Themse, Rhein und Main,
und unter allen Himmeln stets allein:
stets einem Unsichtbaren zugewandt.
Es wandeln ja mit jedem neuen Strand
die Menschen wie die Häuser ihr Gesicht,
erstehen anders schon im Morgenlicht;
und immer wieder scheint mir eins verwandt.

Die Fluten wechseln – braun, blau, grau und grün –
die Augen ebenso, die mich gebannt,

sie füllen meine Augen – und entfliehn.
Doch deine, die ich nur von ferne fand,
die kaum mich streiften, seh ich weitersprühn…
Und ihre Farbe hab ich nie gekannt.

Christina Egan © 1995 / 1996

Black and white panorama of London skyline from a Thames bridge, with another bridge, boats, skyscrapers, St Paul's.

London. Photograph: Christina Egan © 2014


The narrator looks for love amidst the masses of the big city by the big river, where the star constellations consist of neon advertisements. She or he adores someone whom she has only seen from afar so that she does not even know the colour of his or her eyes.

Each sonnet makes a paradoxical statement about loneliness: This person is never lonely because many other people in this city share her loneliness; and she is always lonely because she is in the presence of a beloved one who is absent.

A Quilt of Light and Shade

A Quilt of Light and Shade

A quilt of light and shade,
a quilt of wind and heat
this solstice has become:
half fervour, half fatigue…

A quilt of sun and rain,
a quilt of green and grey,
brick red and blinding white
this city is today.

The boulevards are streams,
the roundabouts are whirls –
and fleetingly this seems
to be the best of worlds.

Christina Egan © 2012


In London, and in northern Europe in general, the weather is unsteady and unpredictable, even in midsummer. London has got a very great number of buildings in red brick, usually with window frames and decorative features in white, and plenty of trees, gardens, and parks. And it is very, very busy…

The summer solstice is also the subject of the previous post, This Day of June. As I am putting these poems online, there should be daylight till ten at night in England and some blue left in the sky even towards midnight — instead, there is not a ray of sunshine all day, and the sky is dark grey in the afternoon…