A peculiar fear takes hold at noon, at the mid-point of Westminster Bridge:
What if I were to see her now? Walking towards me? Across the bridge? Back from west to east?
I should then have seen a wraith
& we would have lost her
The orthopaedic spinal surgeon had better things to do
Than conceal his contempt for this spineless couple, these new age seekers of second opinions
Unforgivably dithering before entrusting their teenager to his inevitable scalpel. Now she is in theatre
& we are in the hands of unknown gods. What libations have I to offer? At the mid-point of the bridge?
It was from St Thomas’s I looked on this river when last I awaited her return to this world
& that time high up from the seventh floor.
What time is it? I said to the wordless nurse
New fathers! Always in our way, her strange look of pity said
Look out the window, her nod of the head to the side said
Not yet four a.m., the face of Big Ben said, looming into the maternity ward, large as comedy, like a zoom-shot moon.
London is a compressor; a truncator of audacity.
Once I strode towards a tour, full of hubris: guidemaster of the streets and alleys
& my short cut took me through another hospital, St Bartholomew’s: this one swallowed me up.
I panicked, lost forever, sniggering with fright at the impossibility
& I distinctly heard London’s injunction, in its voice of gravel and silt: know your place.
By this same river, wider and slower, four thousand years before, another Londoner had laid their child to rest on the low-tide island:
Ashes to mudflat, dust to ditch
& walked away to pick up their life where it left off.
We were luckier. The surgery a success & god save the NHS
& here she is ten years later, a young woman walking upright.
A friend had less luck. The undertakers strode sedate into Charing Cross Road
& for a beat all the traffic rested by St Martin’s
& alone there was muffled stillness as the hearse rolled off the forecourt
& swallowed by the black cabs, joined the flowing river of the city once more
& the tourists resumed their amble and the noise was as before:
The city didn’t care.
But I knew then that this was the greatest comfort:
The clocks had not stopped, the mobiles still rang
& the old dog of St Giles barked once more, ready for his next bone.
I look up to it from the bridge
& see one of the old capricious gods, amused at us through the ripples of the cloud-pool, contending with his next challenge.
I look up to it from the bridge, blinking with the stupidity of mortals
Because sometimes clouds cover the river
& we cannot see the stars
& we must look to the infinity of the city