This is the Southern Service

There’s a long building,
Almost blank,
I glide past at times on the London Bridge train,
A long building – more wall than building –
Flat after flat after flat by the track.

Yellow-brown bricks with arrow-slit windows,
Like narrowing eyes,
truly anti-social housing:
Don’t look, Don’t start, Don’t stare the faces say,
But I always look up from my book.

Compelled to gaze at that slab of a place,
Without so much as a gap to add interest,
Unlike those glassy exclamation marks,
Elsewhere in this parish,
Desperately springing up up and up.

Forbidding is the word, most times, though
Once, the wall was not, when we stopped
I stared, there neatly spaced
On that flat stretching roof, stood a magpie, a gull and a pigeon,
The cast from some terrible joke.

Three feathered crenellations,
A trio of commonplace birds making strange,
Transforming the block in an instant,
For an instant not brick, not wall,
No less than gargoyled castle

A shimmer of magic winged in,
Then the birds were off with a jolt
And brick became brick,
And I was back on the train,
And this,
This is the Southern Service.


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