John O'Donoghue

London Sundays

Across the broad slabs where
Imposing gallery
And Georgian church nestle
(Or is that jostle?) close
To traffic hell and up-
Start fleapit, McDonald’s,
And Charing Cross’s two
Versions of the railway -
One all neon steel tile,
The other vaunted arches
Where litter bins cascade
And stragglers wait mute
Before the clock’s blankfaced
Omnipotence, time past
And time present waiting
Perhaps for time future -

Across the broad slabs of
Long-gone London Sundays
My narrow friends scuttle
Down the dark smoked funnel of
St Martin’s-in-the-Fields’
Cold crypt, the London map
Of dirt and grime etched on
Faces like the pigeon
Shit that’s almost mortar
In the brickwork of this
City’s darkest buildings.

I know some face by face,
The numbered hairs of soup-
Clagged beard and what the young
Ones call that geezer’s
Bobby Charlton Parting.
Not hard to number them.
I take my place amongst
The claques, the tat that’s
Standard issue for us tits,
Us doorstep milk snatchers,
Begrimed and anoraked
All round, the tables strewn
With London Sundays, trash
Magazines and empty
Polystyrene cups, crusts,
Sometimes the personal
Of ‘our gentlemen’.
Indifferent now to
Charity: it’s our right.
Once you’ve come this far, soup’s
All that’s keeping you from
Freezing off the booze and
Pegging out. Couldn’t skipper
This weather, although God
Help us, there’s those that do.

The girls, straight out of Blue
Peter, ladle out the soup
And tidy up, black plastic
Bags swallowing all
The debris. Through the dinge
And murmur, the peasouper
Of Old Horrible smoke
And an atmosphere thick
With decay, our last
Conspiracy, moves young
Fiona, a vision in
The choirstall, her red
Surplice left off for the
Crypt. The good angel sheds her
Her wings and walks. I give
A wink and make my way
To the front, a dud
Communicant whose state
Of grace down here doesn’t
Matter. I’m part of
The general confession
Of the age. I’ve crossed
Myself: there’s only me
To blame.
  Later the day-
Centre down by Waterloo
Where Brian and I scrabble
Away what remains of
The day ’til closing time
Comes round and off we go
Again, me to St Mungo’s
And him, well he’s under-
Neath the Arches, dreams all
Dreamt away.
  The Sunday
Crowds are growing now, round
Leicester Square and up
By Shaftesbury Avenue,
Off to see a film or
The latest musical smash,
Buses lurching round
The weird system of their
Routes as I measure out
The slabs with practised,
Steady rhythm and am
Back before pure neon
Lights the city like
A liner cruising
The cold black ocean,
Flotsam dead along her bows.

O, all those London Sundays.

John O'Donoghue © 2007