This is the Southern Service


There’s a long building,
Almost blank
I glide past sometimes
On the train,
A long building – more wall than building –
Flat after flat after flat alongside the track,
In yellow-brown brick, with arrow-slit windows
Like narrowing eyes

Anti-social housing this is,
The wall seems to say
Don’t look,
Don’t start, don’t look
But I always look up from the book
At this point,
Compelled to gaze at the solid slab
Of a place without so much as a gap to add interest,
Unlike those desperate exclamation marks,
Picked out in glass, springing up up and up
Elsewhere in this parish.

I think is the word,
Or at least it’ll do
Yet for a moment today it was not,
When we stopped and I stared,
Because there on the edge of the flat stretching roof
Stood a magpie, a gull and a pigeon
Neatly spaced –
The cast from some terrible joke.

 Three  birds, feathered crenellations,
Like gargoyles or decorative pineapples
Stone still,
Though magpie soon gave the lie to that,
With a long tail alert with a flick
A trio of commonplace birds,
Common or garden birds,
Yet in an instant they transformed
This slab of a block of a thing.

Now here was not building,
Not wall, but gigantic Jay,
Offering a shimmer of magic,
Flashing colour from the undercarriage of a dull brown wing,
And then they were off with a jolt and brick became brick
And I was thrust back in the room, back on the train
And this
This is the Southern Service


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