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Robert Sheppard


Burnt Journal 1968

                              for Simon Perril


You drive from an earlier decade
into Wolverhampton. The railings
at Foster’s Corner follow the curve
of the road, support the forearms of
lounging men who watch delivery vans
or palely loiter with rubberstamped parcels


Rhythms won’t unstick from our saccharine ears
even The Soft Machine can’t blast away the VC10

Beyond the purple heather, throbbing,
three geodesic boils erupt from the dale


Redcoats stand with hands
behind their backs. Women
in white shorts
line up like a Chinese team
treading the blue steps of the Winter Olympics

Red busses seem redder than ever


He’s not the sort of hero
to lift the lavatory seat with his boot

Lively Lady is a lovely name for his boat
tossing on the alien ocean

He plunges into its funnels of foam
to heave your spongy lungs towards fresh air

Every patch of sky fills
with pictures of gannets



Burnt Journal 1977 for James Byrne

But everything stays the same, he says.
Manhattan is a set of sandy boxes stacked
under a well-behaved sky, catching the sunlight
and refuting human scale.

We’re coming into land on the Land of the Free.
We’re dreaming of the great circle scored into the
territory, bleeding blue lakes into its circumference
which proves the perfectibility of Science.

Beneath that circular path, there is another,
where particles spin and shoot faster than terrestrial
speed on unimaginable trajectories, she says.
This is the other world that holds our world together.

Once imagined, its fissures and fusions could unimagine everything.
We smoke like kippers and neck coffee that tastes of tarmac.




Burnt Journal 1977 for Chris McCabe

In the lounge we watch the swimmers
in the pool, below surface, through TV windows,
diving or drowning. Crimson plastic seats
stick to our backs. Each Whitsun,

this nodding at the seaweed,
these extra sugar cubes at tea-time.
This is Empire, which, having slipped
through our fingers, hurtles towards the floor,

still intact for a micro-second . We British
cap our mountains with castles, nudging
the sky and spreading granite benediction
over the bay, where yellow yachts divide the choppy waters.

Everything is written up in the worst typeface since Gutenberg,
the strapline of an enterprise so free there’s no cash involved.




Parade: Burnt Journal 1978

                                                for Rodge Glass

Here it is the mayor
Of the city in the clouds

Ghostly blue smugly benign
Above the gothic cold shoulder

Of his town hall a stigmata
In the palm of reality here

They are his functionaries rushing
About furtive administration

They keep the town running by
Running faster but freeze

In traffic here is your home
Streetlamps over the squat

Nothing of the Esso petrol pumps
Facing across the fine tarmac

The squat nothing of the Mobil
Station forecourt pillowed on choice

The new thing here it is at last
The whining de-composition of

A mason’s graveyard the rubbish
Tip below the tripwire Wall a

Wreath-strewn luxury shadow
In which history thickens like tar

Here they are the dead spiritual advisers
In the grim mausoleum their

Frame of flag-toting patriots an in-
Human pyramid no iconolatry no

Thrill to be taken now here we are
Where the flyover deletes

The student union windows
Sentinels for snipers ordained by

Calculated misreadings of Adorno
The tin can cars pop on the rise

Above verdant fields where a
Ginger policeman with generous

White gloved traffic hands
Makes notes in black for

The show trial that will follow here
It is our red brigade


Copyright © Robert Sheppard, 2019