In the centre of Leicester there is a clock tower, a famous meeting place and venue for anyone with a message or a tune to share. For ‘Everyone’s Reading’, a Leicester annual event, I wrote a piece of prose but purposely made the structure lyrical. After reading it, two ladies asked me for a copy of my ‘poem’. Later when I heard of attempts to create an anthology of poems about Leicester I rewrote the prose as a more obvious poem and it was received well. I think at the beginning of the season I could have got odds of 5000/1 for me writing a poem of any description.
The poem is based on actual events. The original industrial heart of Leicester was in an area known as Frog Island. The company of its famous son, Thomas Cook, facilitated the first ever pilgrimage to Abdu’l-Baha from the West, organised by Phoebe Hearst and disguised by Thomas Cook as a visit to the Pyramids in Egypt.
Tempus Fugit under the Clock Tower
Standing by the clock tower, waiting, musing,
I feel ancient steps beneath my feet,
Sandled sockless feet of Celts and Romans.
Trading together in the forum, but not blows.
Baths become a ghostly stone outline in the shadow of a wall,
Still impressive after two thousand years.
Now the Bishop’s evangelical pace in a sacred procession
His church cheek by jowl with heathen detritus.
But, holy man, godless Danes will soon overthrow you.
The men of violence come and go while the craftsmen stay,
And sometimes, like me, tarry here.
Their masters now have another tongue. Gone harsh Scandinavia,
The Norman babble, a strange brew of icy Baltic and balmy Mediterranean.
I feel the panicked scurry of Hebrew feet, banished by cruel Simon,
A prelude to a nationwide exile for those who always get the blame.
Meanwhile a shepherd with crook rests, destined to offer hair, skin and meat,
A trinity of wealth bestowing sacrifice for the growing town.
The illustrious mayor is flanked by his guild
While proud Richard struts his last only to return naked and derided.
The fat friars hidden from view in their privileged abbey,
Like their Hebrew cousins, must soon flee the wrath of Henry.
The plague replaces feet with heavy wheels and heavier hearts.
And a traitor lets the royalists in and heralds a blood bath.
A brief triumph, however, as Naseby seals their fate
And Cromwell assures the castle will be no more.
Fine buildings and wide streets radiate out,
Boosted by hosiery and footwear, a smoky industry on its island of frogs
Surrounded by a sprawling warren of cramped and crowded streets,
Their descendants bustling around me now.
A city of such diligent toilers deserved a novel innovation,
Cook’s holiday, Thomas’s own hotel close by.
The rich build a delightful, tree lined promenade from town to racecourse
And the benevolent among them ensure green spaces.
Looking down now at my own imported socks and shoes,
I hear Jesus, Krishna, Muhammad loudly lauded on this tolerant spot
While a disabled Romanian serenades with his lilting accordion.
Romans and Romanians linked by two thousand years.
Tempus fugit right here beneath the clock tower
And nothing stays the same yet nothing really changes.