Draft-dodgers dodging wars,
Betting on the football scores –
Well, that’s the price of freedom.
Christmas Cards on sale in June,
TV news all afternoon,
And folks who claim we faked the Moon –
Cos that’s the price of freedom.
Despots have it easy,
They can do away with clutter –
But me, I’ll take the messiness
Of ev’ry geek and nutter.
So tune them in or tune them out,
But never for a second doubt
That we can ever do without.
Sticky kids on talent shows,
Tattooed arm and studded nose,
Neighbours’ hedges come to blows,
And that’s the price of freedom.
Metric units here and there,
And lots of artificial hair –
It isn’t always right and fair,
But that’s the price of freedom.
Dreamers have it easy,
They can make the world anew –
But me, I’ll take the old one
Cos it’s here and now and true.
So make it sweat or make it blink,
But never for a second think
That freedom is just pen and ink.
Thirteen copies were written, at least,
And probably many more –
All passed from bishop to sheriff to lord,
And pinned-up, read, and, finally, stored,
Then rotted or burned or thoroughly creased,
Until we were left with four.
But then, for many centuries,
Their words were out-of-date –
Their scutages and fishing-weirs
Belonged to long-forgotten years,
And busy parli’mentaries
Have moved on the debate.
Their Latin text is cramped and clipped,
With not an inch to spare.
And just like half the baron knights,
We cannot even read the rights
We’re gifted by this foreign script –
We have to trust they’re there.
But so what if the parchments fade ?
They’re passing, mortal things –
It ain’t the laws that they imparted,
But the movement that they started –
In their image we are made,
Who bow to laws, not kings.
The urban billboards haven’t been updated now for weeks,
Still enticing us to salons, bars, and holidays in Rome,
Or advertising musicals that never got to open
Or for services from businesses where nobody is home.
I always used to hate these hoardings, snapping at my eyeballs –
But now they seem so innocent, with cheery friendliness.
Their absence feels more communist, without their bourgeois mindwash,
Replaced by public notices to queues and cleanliness.
Shaggier and shaggier we grow –
Our roots are getting longer,
Like our fringes, like our beards –
Our thighs are getting hairier,
And nostrels too, and ears.
But does it really show
On low-res video ?
Just let it do its thing –
Bed-head, birds-nest, afro-bloom,
The natural look is in.
Nail scissors, Philishaves,
And goodbye highlights, goodbye waves.
I never thought I’d miss the comb and clip
And the stripy pole
Until the scales fell in my eyes
And my tresses tangled with my soul.
Barber, barber, never go,
We never knew we need you so –
As shaggier and shaggier we grow.
The game goes on, despite the news,
Despite the empty stands –
No pre-match build up now, of course,
No captains shaking hands.
With silence as the coin is tossed,
But not born of suspense –
Then the ref’s whistle deafens
But you couldn’t call it tense.
The sound of boot-on-ball
And teammate calls are very clear
Even from the back row,
Has the action felt so near ?
Except, from our separate sofas
On this long, long afternoon,
They might as well be playing
On the far side of the Moon.
The empty seating does not care
What happens down the wing
And though the cameras catch it all,
Their ops don’t want to sing.
Like a stand-up cracking belters in rehearsal
To an empty hall,
The elephant in the stadium’s
Not trumpeting at all.
A goal is barely celebrated,
No-one’s bellicose –
Their tackles are half-hearted,
They’re unsure of getting close.
A pigeon pecks the touchline
And the players work their shift –
As if the world has changed the channel,
Cutting them adrift.
It all feels rather academic,
Pondering the score –
For does a lonely goal still count
If no-one’s there to roar ?
The modern portrait comes in many gazes –
Some are staring at us,
While others ponder into space –
And profiles never even know we’re there.
But the thing that most amazes
Is the thing we barely suss,
Until the aggregate of faces
Steals upon us what it is they share:
It is their air of serious concern –
The weight upon their brows,
Their watchful eyes,
Their level lips.
These sitters sit unblinking, deep and stern,
In ranks of frowns and scowls,
And endless masks of empty guise
Through which their boredom slips.
They’re pictured well, each grave expression,
Well enough to find them in a crowd –
And yes, they entertain us for a time,
For all their dour style.
So portraiture’s a serious profession,
Justly resolute and proud –
And yet…can it be such a crime
To sometimes paint one with a smile ?
Burdock is a spit for rhubarb,
Giant leaf and fleshy stalk,
As if a kitchen garden has been on a woodland walk.
It’s not a sorrel, (nor a laurel),
’Spite of what it’s name may say –
Its lineage ain’t sitting with the dock nor the bay.
It’s true it grows from burrs,
But its barbs all grow up rhubarb-y,
Decked out in another’s species’ garb, apparently.
At least until it bolts,
When its thistleheads are in the hedge –
Unlike the cauliflowers of its doppleganger veg.
And then there’s the invader,
The mutant, spiky, giant kind
Whose leaves atop are rhubarb but beneath are sharply-spined.
They aren’t at all related,
These three have never shared a bed,
It’s just the way plants get when they get big and broad and red.
I see them on the seats – all waiting, waiting patiently –
The loved-up couples holding hands and smiles,
Others with a carry-cot – happy too, but somewhat tired,
And those who simply sit and stare for miles.
They all have to come here, face-to-face, and talk to us –
Fiancés booking churches or our hall,
The parents who haven’t quite decided on a name,
The loved ones left behind – we see them all.
The not-yet newlyweds, or the newborn needing paperwork –
A second birth, officially existing,
Giving access to a doctor, to a school and to a life –
A passport to a passport, with this listing.
And then, amongst this joy, are the ones to register a death –
They find a way to tell us, as they think best.
Sometimes slipping peacefully, sometimes out of nowhere,
Sometimes only following an inquest.
We try to keep the office looking neutral and, well, yes, bland –
It does not, cannot, suit for either side.
A vase of flowers helps – though more white than colourful –
Compassion for the griever, confetti for the bride.
All must be recorded in our special everlasting ink,
The wedded and the born and the deceased.
It may be bureaucratic but the future’s sure to thank us,
And our touch is always personal, at least.
Why are butterflies butterflies ?
And have been since Old English ?
And no, the Saxons didn’t call them ‘flutter-bys’,
Despite our wish.
Some are yellow, sure, but only some,
And gardens host more than a dairy –
Perhaps it’s simply fanciful and rum,
Like ladybirds are named for Mary.
P’raps the word trangresses,
Metamorphed from ones for ‘beat’ or ‘bug’ ?
But these are only ever guesses
Answered only with a shrug.
Other just-so tales are told,
Like witches flying in disguise –
But nobody, however bold,
Can pin down butterflies.
Yet why should language be so artful ?
Let it keep its logic pure,
Or else, like poets by the cartful,
All we get is endless metaphor.
But other lands are just as likely
To endow them with a role –
The Greeks would call them psyche,
Which they also called the soul,
And Romans said papilio,
The Portugese say borboleta –
What they mean, though, we don’t know,
And your guess is no worse or better.
Spanish use of mariposa
Means ‘Maria, up and fly’ !
Italian farfalla shows a
Meaning shared with a bow-tie.
The Germans call one Schmetterling
For ‘cream-lette’, and the Russian word
Is babochka, for ‘grandma-on-the-wing’ –
Now this has got absurd !
Yet why should language be so frugal ?
Let it flash its colours high –
Or else, like Danish sommerfugl
All we get’s a literal ‘summer-fly’.