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‘London Rambles’ and a poem from ‘Oracular in Tooting’.



Tooting and Beyond.


FILTH QUEST IN shredded Landranger maps and inadequate footwear in the blinking red-eye of dawn scraped from night shift scurrying.

Vulnerable to puckered tarmac and the arcing detritus yet limp on the worn tread of plantar distress and the learnt muscle of steep camber and pot hole.

Crane to the ventilation shafts of curry houses is the neck position of seeing above the shoreline of bin bag autopsied by fox tooth.

Newspaper is mud churned at the feet but the ornate clock of Fountain Rec lifts the heart from that dance of grey impediment there is a morass of gutters best unprodded.

Laundry spires of St. George’s Hospital you make for them the landmarks of clean sheets washed of the fever the sickness in the balance they can’t sleep for the blood’s cusp will the white cells flicker?

A steel lintel up to the second floor of Lanesborough wing at an unfeasible angle they are watching it as if it will give them the answer to stalled ingress.

The Perspex hull that kettled the smokers, become blue with frantic lungs is hauled off its nicotine moorings.

You do not have an appointment.

So it is old symptoms you search for in those wards now boarded the one not far from the rowan tree where a last drama erupted in superinfection.

Keats, Clare and Shelley all have wards for the consumptive, the mad and the drowned; all condemned to piles of unsalvaged London Stock a mustard gas of rubble through which you search for a poetry of case notes.

The feet of nightmare fugues pursue your own journey those nocturnals in leafy shadowed streets where you have been told she now lives and if only you can find the house she will be at the gate haloed in jasmine.

Or in the park at dusk where you find her wounded needing a purple cape for shielding and you provide this but with the first soothing words the cape is suddenly empty.

Awake and on the street at Christmas the first without her a dozen circuits of the block in deep snow tailed in bony cries by crow hound hurdy-gurdy.

To get out beyond these dreams means Colliers Wood its skyscraper black protest and avenue of bathroom appliance shops the stamping ground of the Special Brew Sentinel cups his hand for a pound stung by the erasure of Merton Abbey in the retail pyroclast.

The Wandle choked at the confluence of two superstores the early riser fisher gets a bite from a bicycle inner tube an old shoe the only fish in batter and discarded newspaper all catches must be returned to the water.

Isn’t there solace in hawthorn rioting towards Morden Hall where the river spits out clumps of diesel? dreams of the white iron bridge and the dance of the midges by the waterwheel?

Is there a walk that has a horizon where eyes can unpin from their stalks and feet might forget their perpetual powering through bedsheets?

Filth of your own making if you cannot make anew these dreams these streets these spurred heels.


barbed rule



THE CHILL SWEAT of the Fever Hospitals;
the teeth chatter through porous London Stock.
A ring of arterial fire that keeps a cradled seething
from the profligate dampness of slums:

Tottenham, Tooting,
Shooter’s Hill, Hither Green,
thrown up at the pace of climbing thermometers,
mercury catchers before the burn-up.

Strep throat Alcaics spat into kidney dishes
brought to the hermeneutics of sluice,
soft thumbing of the glands for readings
of streptococcal balls and chains.

The ward plan is a lung laid out in branching brick;
alcoves of respiratory last words in state of the art care,
Christmas bunting for the bedridden,
all turn sunken eyes to the camera.

Triangles of starch manners and thin lips;
the Nightingale bequest of mirror floorboards
and the elbow froth of carbolic,
smiles fixed for sepia kindness.

The burning of bedding and clothes;
the incinerator paired with the smoke belch
of the Fountain Road brickworks,
kilns of twinning lung deflation.

Microbiologists announce a comeback
with slides of sandpaper skin and razor cough,
the white flecked hawk of returning droplets
disdaining their own dormancy and bed shortages.

David Hackbridge Johnson is a composer and writer. He has written 15 symphonies (three of which have been recorded on Toccata Classics), more than a dozen tone poems, many instrumental and vocal pieces and an opera in Klingon. He is active as a jazz performer on violin, piano and drums. As well as writing on music he has produced many slim poetry volumes for Fine Publications, including Baroque Variations, The School of Umbrosus, Counterpoints I – IV and Endenich, a poem about the last days of Robert Schumann. A larger volume, The Utter Sump, is forthcoming from The Loxham Imprint early in 2019. “London Rambles: Tooting and Beyond” is part of a project to map, by walking, the poet’s locality, Tooting, by means of a cluster of history and its vestiges, fantasy and personal memory.


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