I exit the rush-hour underground and it’s you
I find, hurrying along the night-time street.
You came over in ’56, you and my father seeking
work, too poor to marry in Fermoy. You found
your first London job in the basement of Barkers.
I scrutinise the old chocolate-brown building,
no longer a genteel department store, the lower floor
a giant Whole Foods mall. But you’re here, you’re
here in the geometric Art-Deco façade—was it built
in 1930, the year of your birth? They’ve put you
in Haberdashery, buffing the walnut counter till your face
is ablaze in amber. But when you get the chance
you pull open a shallow drawer, lift a spool of ribbon—
‘eau de nil’—feel the watered silk between your fingers
as you measure it against the brass yard-stick.
I cross the road to St Mary Abbots, its gothic shadows
skipping round floodlit gargoyles and buttresses.
What do you make of the steel-grey steeple? Shoppers
swirl round the fulcrum of its pencil-thin elegance,
oblivious to the ease with which it spikes the Kensington sky.
You cross the road in your lunch-hour to peruse
the flamboyant carvings. Taught to fear Protestants,
you don’t dare to go in, though you’d give a week’s wages
to sit at the midday recitals by students from the Royal
College of Music, stand outside instead, listening—
Exsultate, jubilate, o vos animae beatae, dulcia cantica canendo.
The priory is still overlooked by the latticed towers
of Barkers, lit up so I can see two Union Jacks flapping,
but where are the red-domed buses—double-deckers—
open at the back, with landing platform and steel pole
for gripping when you jump on? Which one do you take
from your lodgings in Fulham, to get you here for 9 am?
Making my way back to the station, the heels of your
new court shoes ring out on the pavement. You’re here,
twenty-five, hurrying to the tube that will whisk you
to the Opera, to your narrow seat in the gods.