Poetry Here & Now: Martin Underwood, Shail Agrawal/ Lekhni-March-April 18

Iron Man
(New Street, Birmingham)

Slammed me shut in iron
Thrust me seven leagues deep.
I fought back to light
But gravity caught me by heels
So I lean at an angle to this world.

In the last frustrated effort to get out.
One day my bands will rust away.

I stand still listing-
A mute intruder darkening the thoroughfare
Enduring the mouthings of little people:
“ What us it?” “ I don’t like it.”
“ What it meant to be?” “ How should I know?”

I am not meant to be:-
I AM
Gagged with steel I bear
The seasons and all weathers-
The pigeons I cannot brush from my head,
The dogs that halt by me,
The demeanings of unthinking people.
A writhing mind silenced,
Absorbing all into a hopeless body.

When the last bond breaks
I shall astonish you all.
I shall tramp to the end of street
Leaving my footprints in the paving stones.

Is that what you are afraid of?


Feeding the pigeon
(Soho Road, Birmingham)

They know the time of the day,
Begin to hang about in groups
Nod to each other, but keep a sideway watch –
And at her appearance sweep down
From the sooty rooftops all around-
A plethora of wings all at once apparent,
Steel grey, cloud grey, pearl grey,
All with the sheen of new annealed metal
Flapping down to populate the grass at her feet.

Her brown hands broadcast crusts and scraps.
She stands unmindful of passers-by,
The noise of the crowded road.
Absorbed in the manoeuvrings about her sandalled feet,
The hurried marching to and fro,
Their sleek necks opalescent in the brief sun.
She knew the stranger and the regular
The bully, and the ones who need some calculated luck
To feed at all.

For a brief time this site-
Cleared and abandoned , tussocked with weeds,
Two concrete benches, broken, graffiti’d
Rubbish blowing and drifted-
Blossoms as she stands apart from the world
Like the saint, ministering to the attentive birds.
Creating each day a new and oblivious stillness
Beside the noisy thoroughfare
Recalling each day her native home
And there the glittering pigeons
-The souls of newly-dead-
Rising and wheeling into the over-arching blue
Above the sacred river at Benares.

Martin Underwood

Tale of the two cites

You asked, where do I come from
Mix the wisdom and serenity of Oxford
to the talent and attitude of Liverpool
And have a feel of my city

That city of Shiva, God with an extra eye
A city of art and culture, sari and silk
Tradition and religion for the oldest faith
Simple people with their simple attitude
Ridding their sins in Gange’s holy water

Dead go for a sacred journey there
Living come to celebrate not only life but beyond
Its’ ghats littered with crooks and beggars
But the city, a power-house of destiny-makers

Prophets philosophers poets and leaders
In its jewels hide artist and musicians too
Buddha got his wisdom here and Kabir
An orphan taught how to live in peace and harmony

Bring Dhaka, Peshawar, Kabul, Ludhiana
Trinidad Mozambique Egypt and China
Athens, Rome, Mexico and Ghana
In fact bring the whole world together
Where I live now is the heart of this nation

This spaghetti junction of nations’ economy
This meeting pot of words’ trade and culture
powerful guns, cars, crystal, clothing and metal
All laced with HP sauce, sprinkled with Ansell beer

Practical people with practical enterprises
No sweet talk just hard core substances
Its Jaguar and Rolls-Royce Rolled over the world
Chamberlain filled the square with strength and vigour

How can I forget Beetles went to learn Indian music to kashi
And Ravi Shankar came to introduced his sitar to the world here
One cutting edge of modern technology
While other is the oldest city, seat of faith and eternity

One dark and sweet as Cadburys’ chocolate
Other mysterious and pious as Ganges river
Two reliable hemispheres of my little brain
Two bright jewels, close to my heart

Where I was born and educated
lived and laughed made my home for life
Are two colourful cities lively and intelligent
One called Varanasi, other you know as Birmingham

Shail Agrawal