Beside the Baltic and The Molecule Man

Alistair Noon


‘Beside the Baltic’

Kind of obsessed with the nautical,
I noticed the scales that cling
where crewmen haul in their pay.
A matinee at the Theatre of Water
and the sun had spotlit the stage,
but the morning show had finished
as normal, without applause,

and the boats were nudging the harbourside,
blue with orange crates and red flags,
brown souwesters, green buckets,
waiting for silver at first light.
There was a grey unpainted hull
whose portholes were staring back,
and the cranes were scalpels, held high,

awkward elbows. Their pulleys plunged,
stalled. The sleeping winches.
The steel ropes and iron ballast.
But was that the crane-man coming,
in his cloth cap, leaden black jacket,
and loose laces, whistling
some radio song as he stumbled

along the chalk rim in the chill,
beside blotches of seaweed? Even
if this water is near-landlocked
the cliff stays a nervous littoral,
held back by the coccoliths,
and no friend of the beech trees,
which lean out as if sailors under sail.

The trees become fish that fall
to the gulls’ cacophonous insistence.
Pawprints continue to speak
in the dark cement of the wharf.
The aluminium sea-eagles
strafed the last boats to the West,
escaping the final performance.

Copying distant deltas filled
with loam, multiple streamlets
feed the Baltic. Jeans, boots,
Jesus, even the sea is filthy.
And the white sun looks
at the zig-zags of the steps
panting their way up the cliffs.



‘The Molecule Man’

Three huge flat figures walk on water.
Their aluminium selves are filled with holes.
They grapple with each other where the H20 flows,
once part of the solid, silent border

between the two great drainage systems,
between two special economic zones,
the mazes that millions mapped out as homes,
till the wire and walls came down, and the river

flowed over the lower, shoddier bank first,
flooded the buildings with new carrier bags,
TVs and cars, till the freshwater washed back
to the far shore and levelled the earth.

New towers were berlinned on the banks,
and new banks berlinned in the towers. No more
landscapes of flowers in the miracle talk,
but the red and green men in their Quaker hats

continued to light up the pedestrian crossings
as alternating icons, luminous ideograms:
designed in the Old East, they’re less lamps
than candles for a change that’s chanted as loss.

Now in the New West, the Molecule Man
is static at his place on the central river.
His three heads and six arms form a Shiva
turned inwards and away from the land.

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