Greg Gilbert



The last of the ashes sink
And we mind its writhing,
witness its rhythmic dissolution
amongst the oil and stick litter
as the filthy green swans draw near.
There are laws against this;
the bank is silent, the houses indifferent,
still we hide our tribute,
simple geography: he
fished here,
against the bridge,
its pocked and blistered iron
thrummed by sleepless engines,
the crackling silver of river gills
aping starlight overhanging.
This fact defines him.
He was Santiago and thought me
his Manolin, the water,
a giving thing, a
sacred exchange.
We depart through the estate –
orange, white and serpent coiled, –
a gift of years to the river,
the swans with
ashes on their feathers.

The applause of the swans
at pace upon the river
breaks across the park, –
a thin, slow trajectory of
patient heaving, a
single wing between them,
ashes on their feathers.
Somewhere the silt devours
a Roman road,
at peace, visible
maybe from height, binding
lost Clausentum to the mudflats,
where the houseboats suckle.
I catch their ascent
above the terracotta, a fleet
of broadswords pulling
for the porcelain white,
their filthy green
now playground grey
and I pull with them
(a wilful surge of the mind,
to feel the fall of the earth
beneath ecstatic flight,
accompanying these seraphim
on their tour). And
all the noise of Solent airs
hush upon us, fat vascular
currents that devour the traffic,
the school bell, the church bell,
the dog scraps of gardens and parks,
a swallowing mass, the city,
coins in the grass
snug to the rusty Itchen; the
Alps of refuse like a dragons back
heaving us on toward the docks
where the cranes stitch the horizon,
and the fractured Braille of the old walls
describe the city as was,
the shore as was.
Our host bank


and the last of the ashes
abandon their wings
and I fall with them,
this agency of thought
delivering us to the Tower,
accepting us as loess.
Disentangled from limb and fate,
we are numerous; we can let
the salt blow through us,
on this sighted parapet,
awaiting our next stirring.
GG, ‘17
Greg Gilbert drawing