Centos for National Poetry Day 2003

Cento
by Roger McGough

Helsinki.
Jubilee Rd, up by the canal.
Grandma McGough alone. Seven sons
and a daughter flown. Frost on the aspidistra.
 
Naples.
Alder street, down by the docks.
Grandma McGarry, knees up for a full house.
Biggles and Irish jigs. Lino dancing.
 
Growing up in Liverpool, this was my geography.
My North, my South, I sailed between the two.
Since then I've travelled the world and found
that everything I learnt, I already knew.
 

 

Cento
by Roger McGough and the rest of the country

Point the telescope and insert coin-
Observe the view and at night, the moon.
Terraced houses in a snaky line,
The last skyscrape of shipyard cranes along the Wear.
 
Bromley Cross, Pendle and the Last Drop.
Evenings drawing in, smoke from the chimney.
My mother's baking. Jam tarts and apple pies
with blackberries picked from Shawford Down. Mmmm
 
Drowsy. The chardonnay, subtle and sharklike,
hits you like a continent, vast and unexplored,
you, transported. Oh, how I dream of Honolulu,
The Narborough Road, Franco and the snowman.
 
Point the telescope and insert coin-
From the high-rise flats I've a god's eye view.
Windsor, Imperial Road, under the flightpath
children in the playground, ignoring the sound.
 
Concorde passes. Bustling streets and a sea of faces.
Baker's open, people run counting change,
trudging shift workers, vans, trucks and more vans
do a lay-by dance as they get their breakfast.
 
To take a land mass and give it a name.
To call it 'mine'. The coal, the cotton, the pride,
the black vein that runs deep. A celtic kind of peace
in St Davids in the spring, a long sweep from Raglan.
 
Hiraeth. Over the bridge into Welsh mist,
Wrexham. In Alyn Waters Country Park
feel the beauty, peace and tranquillity, the chaos
in the rest of the world unimaginable.
 
Methodist and Muslim. Lostock via Lahore.
Dhal and chips, prayermats hanging from magnolia walls
Caramel skin, blue eyes, hair that can't decide
Cobbles, cold knees, spin tubs, my English half.
 
I feel secure knowing my people are around me
The vibrant Bombay glamour on my doorstep.
In the country of my dressing gown, the warm home is womb
and nation. Beyond it, like a third skin, the world.
 
Like a continent, vast and unexplored,
the cultural diversity that is London, interweaving
and constantly growing. A blue butterfly dream
so delicate yet it bleeds. 'Clapham is God'
 
Point the telescope and insert coin-
The roof is big, the pipes are too
The Tesco Extra is now my view
Oh, how I dream of Bombay.
 
Long rainy days fester in my mind.
Little Holland, a miracle of sea turned to land.
A place that's nowhere, owns nothing, and yet
strangely forms the sounding-boards of my world.
 
The canal stretches down past yawning fields
in boring Grantham town. Down by the river
the toddlers' squished, sweaty bread is fed
to the flapping geese. The sun drowns.
 
Open skies. Interrogation of lumped clouds
by an interfering light. Willow trees
with pollard silhouettes in the moon night.
Fens freeze. Cut teeth in Cambridge.
 
Greeks eat microchips with ketchup
while raven clad dons anchor colleges
and tourists seek life in helical streets.
Feel the beauty, peace and tranquillity, the chaos.
 
Punted to Grantchester where anapest wasps
still come to The Orchard for tea. Drowsy.
The chardonnay, vast and unexplored.
I'd love to see the day when my worries float away.
 
When the Ouse invades their privets
and oozes up their drains,
residents of the flood plain often regret
dipping a toe into the property market
 
Lyme Regis when you are bookish,
Brighton when gay, Metal Bridge when car sick,
and Kendal for cake. The cultural diversity,
interweaving and constantly growing.
 
Where England chills her bustle-next-the-sea
An art deco pier, Edwardian cinema, ice-cream parlours.
Deserted shops, a chipboard gallery of spraycan art.
A fading relic of a popular resort.
 
Point the telescope and insert coin-
Priory ruins tower to the sky, dark grey
against the blue background. Guisborough,
market town nestled on north east coastline.
 
In nearby Whitby fishing town only the gulls
on stones and sea remain after our faint etches
on this absorbant surface. Endless skies.
The sun drowns in a crimson sea.
 
Discovering Norfolk. Vastness of waters.
Crab boats, poppies, woodlands, feeling free.
St Benedicts is my favourite Norwich street,
off city-centre maps, narrow and old-fashioned.
 
'Where's Ware?' they always joke, as if it's new.
I know where I am, that's where Ware is too.
Where grass and marsh greet sand and breeze,
pause there, stand on windswept dunes and listen. Breathe.
 
Portsmouth. Grandad dug for victory, Nana boiled scraps
to feed the hens. Tomatoes ripened on the air-raid shelter.
Dreaming of Honolulu, I prepare for winter,
knitting warm woollies for my first grandchild.
 
Windsor when you're a monarch,
Pendle when a witch, Clapham when dancing
and Granchester for tea. The cultural diversity,
interweaving and constantly growing.
 
Point the telescope and insert coin-
Out of the mist, leers the green beam
of Wainhouse Tower. Over the brooding valley
and down the steep cobbles to Scarr Bottom.
 
They're burning the fields,
and pheasants are silently staring on the roads.
Mountains of apples, drunken cider wasps,
drowsy, subtle and sharklike.
 
On a bridge across the Taw,
I got ever so dizzy and dropped to the flaw.
Cold knees, spin tubs, the Last Drop,
I'd love to see the day when my worries float away.
 
Weekend trips to the Birkenhead terrace
where the budgies cage spanned the front room's length
and cats sloped in to be fed. Golden people,
open their mouths and friendliness comes out.
 
Praying to Saint Anthony to find that money.
Reality of hand stuck down side of couch:
'Nowt here mum.' Guilt trip.
Say one Our Father and three Hail Marys.
 
Whitby for seagulls, Portsmouth for hens,
Scarr Bottom for cobbles, and Birkenhead
for budgies. The cultural diversity
interweaving and constantly growing.
.
Point the telescope and insert coin-
In Wiltshire where feelings and flowers
still grow and hide, there's a brown church
that fits perfectly in my window.
.
Prancing playfully, in white chalk
escarpments are mysterious mares
freed by flint axes and unbridled time.
They guard silently watching.
 
They canter over to me as I feed them carrots and apples,
the horses munching happily down by the cemetery.
My favourite place in Hartwell. Oh my Tully and Toffee.
Riding silently on unbridled mysterious mares.
 
While Ben Nevis Towers, the Eden project flowers.
King Arthur snores soundly in cold stony chambers.
Armed with his trusty sword and slumbering knights
he dreams of conquests and castles and square tables.
 
Aigburth road, or boulevard as mother would always say,
shiny chestnuts packed in prickly cases,
privet hedges, rose bush paths and French mademoiselle.
Anfield, the atmosphere, the joy and the drama.
 
The sound of Mostyn House bells in the midday air.
The Wirral (across the water from Liverpool)
where they blow their noses on real hankies
then tuck them into their anoraks.
 
Macclesfield on Saturday, the Silkmen to see
a nil-nil draw, a dodgy pie and a plastic cup of tea.
Evenings drawing in, smoke from the chimney,
Oh, how I dream of Anfield.
 
Prenton. The cold wind blows up the unwelcoming alley-ways
Gates swing back and forth after a hard night
fighting the fearsome wind. The sound of a dog howling
echoes up the moonlit street, waking up the sleeping children.
 
Dalton, with a castle, three churches and a town square
had its own cinema but now it's a co-op.
Cardiff bay was grim and grey, coal and steel in the way
and no sign of a bloody tiger
 
Where, you might ask is the land of BOT?
Just 30 miles from Brum.The smell of hops,
Branston Pickle, Nestle's coffee. The Bass Museum
it's Shire horses brushed and shod welcome those who dare.
 
Be careful where you step in Babbacombe!
It is home of the little people.
Poole, once abustle with barges and boats
now aglitter with yachts and fur coats.
 
In South Kensington and Holland Park
detached souls in free range rovers
rejoice in our higher turnovers
We have the monopoly on four-leaf clovers.
 
The Wirral for anoraks, Hartwell for toffee,
Brum for coffee and Cardiff for tigers.
The cultural diversity interweaving
and constantly growing.
 
Point the telescope and insert coin-
Nu-Metal kids on Jubilee Saturday night,
fishnet sleeves and black eyes, but laughing mouths.
The air is warm, trams toot, the grass is dry.
 
Emsworth: on the map for years for its luscious oysters
till sewage pollution became too boisterous,
sending Winchester's Dean to heavenly cloisters.
The chardonnay, subtle and sharklike.
 
Morecombe the hidden jewel that never quite made the crown.
It's motto, health abounds, beauty surrounds.
Filey, children screeching with laughter chase after
the toe tickling tide, a wide-eyed day beside the sea.
 
Saltburn. Crack! a sleepy seaside town awakes,
realises Victoria's dead, no heroine to recue them.
Sunsets in a golden age as the pier shrivels slowly.
In commerce we trust. Oh, how I dream of Honolulu.
 
Battles in the Borders. Thinking about its past,
remembering who it is. Climb Cheviot and touch the sky.
Sheep like grounded clouds. Shepherds, leaning on crooks,
with horn handles glowing, shouting: 'Come by, lad.'
 
Consett where the steel works were. Covering the town
with a dust so red. Workers leaving factory gates,
coughing, spluttering and looking half dead. Regeneration
stopped all this. Me Nan's got a garden with a brand new shed.
 
Cuthbert winks from lighthouse bright,
reaching across silver waves to kiss curl dunes
sweeping high then blinks, caressing cheekbones
of jagged rocks hidden, with a sigh.
 
Keep to the Causeway, obey tide tables.
Understand quicksand, fast seas, slow drowning.
Pray to the saints of Holy Island.
Understand slow sand, quick tides, fast drowning.
 
Mouth of the River Tees: Industrial, dark geometry
frames the day's sounds: Sea birds, the hiss of steel,
a north sea wind. Distance and Light. The estuary.
The last skyscrape of shipyard cranes.
 
Saint Cuthbert for kiss curls, Cheviot for sheep,
Morecombe for hidden jewels, and Consett
for brand new sheds. The cultural diversity,
interweaving and constantly growing.
 
Point the telescope and insert coin-
Observe the patchwork that is Britain.
The dark geometry of jam tarts and prayer-mats,
brooding valleys and toe-tickling tides.
 
Three lines I have for my favourite place but I shall do it in two:
It is wherever we are at, whenever I'm with you.