Estill Pollock: London in those Times

london image 2

*****

Estill Pollock‘s first pamphlet selection of poems, Metaphysical Graffiti, was published in England. This was followed by a principal collection, Constructing the Human (Poetry Salzburg), which was later developed into the book cycle, Blackwater Quartet. Between 2005-11, in collaboration with Cinnamon Press in Wales, he published a second major book cycle, Relic Environments Trilogy. His latest collection, Entropy is published by Broadstone Books (2021) in the United States. A native of Kentucky, he has lived in England for forty years.

*****

LONDON IN THOSE TIMES

London in those times
Of Empire, the waterlines
Of sailing fleets weighed
Low with slaves and spice, the world
Packed piecemeal into the holds

*

A greasy light cuts
The chill, but will not repair
The damp, his window
Above the muleskinner’s yard
Shut tight against steel on bone

*

A rough-coated dog
Noses along the gutter
For chop scraps, fat cuts
And gristle a feast in streets
Boiling leather for a meal

*

Shrill news of war, lamps
Flickering on handbills sold
On corner pitches
To citizens wary tax
Must rise to stop the Russians

*

Holes half-grave slam coach
And passengers, knocking loose
Teeth and bowels, beaten
Wheel springs bent from ruts— one man
Faints, puking cheese and kidneys

*

The market boy puts
A baby on the girl, who
Is fourteen next month
But looks older, her mother
Scolding, What took you so long

*

Shabby-genteel, sat
Days in lawyers’ lobbies, courts
And hallways, places
Out of the rain, faded suits
A beeswax shine at the knees

*

Warm work with hornpipes
The shawl-dance and blithe quadrilles
Led him by lamp-light
To spirit rounds in praise of
The dancing master’s daughter

*

Mutton, fowls and pork
Washed with porter-pots, actors
Commiserate with
Actors, theatres worse now
With encore fads for fire hoops

*

At the park Sunday
A young lady with her beau
Smiling at the waltz
The band played, behind them, low
Men, laughing at her ankles

*

As arranged, they meet
In the park, her new blue hat
And velvet bracelet
Matching her parasol, his
Spit clipping her pretty shoes

*

Rag-bound cadavers
Slumped where they fell, in doorways
Or by arches just
Yesterday their stage, their plea
Sir, what is an Englishman

*

A sham investment
With his name prominent, shares
Sworn gilt-edged by rogues
He trusted, the court’s mercy
A cell at the Marshalsea

*

A sweep’s luck, fire irons
And the grates, a tale once told
Of a prince’s son
Kidnapped, raised by rowdy names
For smoke holes, good as any

*

The fair ends, sodden
Clothes, the lord drunk, quarrelsome
And her ladyship
Dragging muddy skirts, a clown
Somewhere, still beating a drum

*

Girls without bonnets
Winking as they pass, and shops
Of grave goods third-rate
Actors pawned, stage shoes, a dress
Yellowed in the dirty light

*

The neighbour found her
Sunk-eyed, bloody with the wound
Her husband dealt, death
Upon her, police said, still
She swore it was never him

*

A pretty redhead
Shucked oysters at her shop, men
Waiting, the oysters
Slipping down, one man, lovesick
Hoping he was not too old

Apprentice boys, bright
Buttons on bright coats, free day
In the park, dare each
Other the gentleman’s rate
For their feet up on a chair

*

Quick to his grave and
Quicker still the Will, his kin
A dirty crew, Thames-
Bred, who knew the bite of gold
And the oily codicil

*

The boarding house, brass
Letter plate, brass knocker, rooms
Let furnished, private
Keys for gentlemen meeting
The landlady’s requirements

*

A long story, made
More so by misremembered
Names he sought to pull
From thin air, his pension one
For service at Waterloo

*

After much handling
By her employer she left
Her position, in
A parting note, the words Crazed
And Culpable spelled with Ks

*

At libraries, spas
And musical events three
Seasons now, her girls
Honed ingenious skills, eyes
Bright for suitors at the door

*

The widow hid coins
In her wig, the weight of it
Leading her this way
And that, at meals coughing her
Teeth into the soup tureen

*

The afternoon, dull
As Lord Chesterfield’s Letters
Took courage at sparks
Flying from the hammer forge
To hurrahs of cheering boys

*

He sighed at mention
Of Lord Byron, quoting verse
That made ladies blush
And their husbands conspire
To part him from his senses

*

On his face, the look
Of Hamlet at his father’s
Ghost, inheritance
Once snakes-and-ladders yowls, now
Purring for his signature

*

He polished his boots
As always, just in the way
As Army days, at
The table a game pie, his
Wife too, a knife in her neck

*

The lady’s honour
In doubt from his throwaway
Remark, the challenge
Is made, the duel in the field
Where as boys they used to play

*

Looks, a character
At home in a Richardson
Novel, all else as
God intended, his ships set
Fair across a hundred seas

*

A bachelor’s life
Fifty years, he considered
Matrimony might
Suit his later time, the one
He never knew loved him, dead

*

The horse-and-gig left
To a boy to mind, the hours
Went by, the fourpence
A beggarly reward for
The cold that killed him later

*

A room let furnished
Overlooking the churchyard
Suited his sojourns
Among the tombstones, his notes
On extinct lines admired still

*

She is delivered
Of the child by a woman
From the neighbourhood
Who speaks softly of linen
For preparing the dead boy

*

Of the hospital
He knew nothing, apart from
Its rattle-breath wards
And rumours of dark rooms, and
People pickled there in jars

*

A shaded lamp by
The bedside, the woman’s nurse
And children, crying
And her husband, bloodshot drunk
Asking the day, and the hour

*

A dirty, lawless
Time, windows stuffed with rags, poles
Jammed in casement cracks
Hung with dank clothes, a sluggish
Drain, children with stick-horses

*

The half-pay captain
With a small annuity
Besides, agreed terms
Of the lease, but knew nothing
Of houses, or housemaids vexed

*

Handy in the lane
With hedges, and for his skills
Promoted to head
Gardener, his hoe work caught
The eye of the master’s wife

*

The girls, thin as wax
Candles, flickered in and out
Of life, hospital
Hallways a cold Thames current
Gathering them quick under

*

The Thames, stinking sump
From Westminster to the sea
Requires Parliament
Swim through sewers to law, the
Medieval cess made new

*

Darwin attests apes
Are our brothers in the soul
However, ladies
And gents, our readers resent
The notion monkeys sing hymns

*

A joke a joke, but
Women’s suffrage names its fools
In street-parades their
Own children shy from, Mother
Jailed, in the road, men laughing

*

A block-tin oven
For baked potatoes, kidney
Pies, waxed paper lights
The wind snuffs cold, theatre
Omnibuses, pompous men

*

Brawling in the street
Or loafing against the posts
Day labourers, boys
As squalid as the houses
In Seven Dials, its cracked bell

*

The Queen Empress, dead
And no one could think how such
A little cough fooled
Physicians, its rarity
No doubt reflected in fees

*

The city mourns, black
Crepe draped on every window
While courtiers in
Their private quarters decide
The shape of new world order

*

Coal smoke, yellow fog
Sinuous through a sickly
City, the wealthy
Fled to their estates, the poor
Begging pennies for their graves

*

A boy soldier, he
Marched against Napoleon
And cheered the Duke, now
Frail, his only memory
The summer the Thames ran dry

*

LONDON image

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