The Forbury Gardens
Through a side gate, whose unassuming frame
is draped in swags of pale wisteria
like hairstyles worn by Victorian girls,
I return to a half-remembered space,
its neat enclosure more clearly defined
by flint walls than the past will ever be;
and where parched lawns, diminished and threadbare
in the unseasonable heat, mark out
a territory that can’t now be repossessed –
the tiny fortress of Forbury Hill,
the bandstand’s lookout, and the benched refuge
we reinvented as a secret cave.
Today even the lion towering above
his plinth seems at a loss to justify
those fallen in Afghan wars, staring,
muscle-bound, into a sky where cranes loll,
ponderingly, raising disposable
futures from a debris of junked decades.
Like vague impulsive ghosts, those earlier selves
who rampaged in drab, unfashionable
clothes, our echoes trapped as a sibilance
in the tunnel that brought us, crash landing,
onto holy ground: a ruined abbey’s
lost domain of ritual and trauma.
Hagiography and a dead language
bound us to our past, the tedium also
of a Corpus Christi parade winding
slowly through these gardens, the air heavy
with hymns and incense, my tired head mesmerised
by a thurible clattering against its chains.