DOWN IN THE TUBE STATION (not necessarily at Midnight).

by Charles S. Kraszewski.

 

The next station is Edgware Road
Change here for Hammersmith and City Line.
This is a Circle Line Train via Baker Street and King’s Cross / St. Pancras.

The circle, they say, is a template of infinity.
“Show me,” said the man who outsmarted Lucifer,
“where this begins.” And out he held a circle
as perfect as the roundel of the Underground sign.
Thus was the devil confounded.
(So the camphoric nuns taught us open-mouthed babes,
itching in our ill-fitting communion suits).
How clever of him, the man who cheated the devil.
No, how stupid of them, in their starched, immaculate wimples,
so to subordinate mercy and prevenient grace
to man’s cheap cunning!
For they were wrong, so wrong. That would never work:
“It begins here,” said the Prince of Darkness,
pointing in turn to the Edgware Road station
on his handy TFL pocket Tube map;
“At Marble Arch. Alias Tyburn Tree.
No, not for Southwell and Barrow, Caldwell and Gawen
(more’s the pity)
but for the Topcliffes of the world,
the bitches who unleash them,
and the Anti-Owens who build such
delectable contraptions
in the first place.
Next station,” mimicked Old Nick
“Gehenna. Mind the gap.”

The next station is Baker Street.
Change here for Bakerloo, Metropolitan, and Hammersmith and City Lines.
This is a Circle Line Train via Baker Street and King’s Cross / St. Pancras.

On the pavement outside the Volunteer
two men are hunched over a drain.
The cachement engineer shakes his head
as if he were saying “poor dear,”
while the flusher plunges in a pole
as if with trochar and lancet
he were puncturing a sheep gone livid with the bloat
after getting into the vetches.
And suddenly Buckingham Palace
is as far away from this combe of Christendom
as the icy honeydew vaults of Kublai Khan;
St. Paul’s, as the pendentives and squinches
of the fish-scale golden cupolas of Prester John’s mythical realm.

The next station is Great Portland Street.
Change here for Metropolitan, and Hammersmith and City Lines.
This is a Circle Line Train via Baker Street and King’s Cross / St. Pancras.

You once lived here. Coral now
Take bets on football, royal brats,
The latest Euro-Yankee row
With Putin and the Ukraine; that’s
Comparatively, Hunt, small beer
Compared to this: that you lived here.

The next station is Euston Square.
Change here for Metropolitan, and Hammersmith and City Lines.
This is a Circle Line Train via Baker Street and King’s Cross / St. Pancras.

The regenerative braking gave a throaty whine
as the train kiltered into a bend much too quickly,
swerving her sidewise from her post
on the swivel-point panel;
this is it that brought her thigh
into rapid contact with his left forearm.
He’d just completed the Evening Standard’s
cryptic crossword;
smiling,
he’d congratulated himself on sussing out “Beagle”
from the “Evolutionary canine? (6)” clue.
The soft concussion chased the last leg of the E
trumpeting across the newsprint
like a triumphal flourish — Peccavi!
And would he not have snuffed that out as well?
Sir Charles Napier’s telegramme?
(Or Catherine Winkworth’s; in this case too
a woman’s behind
it).
“Sorry,” she primly curtsied with her chin
from above him,
her face as perfect as a sunny-warm olive, her hair
brown and soft around her perfect olive face.
“Did you finish it? Bravo!”
And although it wasn’t his station,
all ablush, with sweat prinking his hams
he lumbered up from the seat he hadn’t offered her,
mumbled an incoherent clot of words
and pushed past her with a bit-off rind
of a smile that clattered against the gap
and fell into the grimy depths trackside.

Once upon a time he had been a twelve-year old boy
caught knocking over plastic soldiers on the porch
by Mary from across the way
who flounced in with a friendly salute
“Reporting for duty, Field Marshal!”

The next station is Kings Cross / St. Pancras.
Change here for Metropolitan, and Hammersmith and City Lines,
Northern and Victoria Lines, and National Rail services.
This is a Circle Line Train via Liverpool Street and Tower Hill.

Red Army
Red Army
Red Army
Red Army

The butch-cropped boy in the shiny black jackboots
on the roundabout way to the protest at Whitehall
let the blue and yellow Ukrainian flag
slip discreetly from his shoulders
as the ham-faced pair lurched onto the train.
He pressed back even further into the stiff fabric of his seat:
Tut tiezh? Here too?
Here and in Kharkiv and in Crimea?

Fuck ‘em all Fuck ‘em all!
United, West Ham, Liverpool!
‘Cos we are the Arsenal!
We are the best!
We are the Arsenal!
Fuck all the rest!

His disobedient eyes kept sliding left
To where they swung wetly from their stanchions,
Those cold-war relics
Those Putler fascists
but no else one seemed to mind:
the fleshy girl across the way kept on calmly rolling her fags.

Then one of the chunky boys a few seats down right
winked at his mate
and passed him a Carlsberg from out a plastic bag
and started to croon:

He scores when he wants
He scores when he wa-ants…

at which the long spotty one chimed in,
swiveling and swaying dangerously close
to the tweedy lap of the matron beneath him

Lukas Podolski
He scores when he wants!

He scores when he wants
He scores when he wa-ants
Lukas Podolski
He scores when he wants!

The only words the OUN throwback could make out
were Łukasz and Podolski
which explains the red and white scarves, O God
and he sunk a bit lower into his seat
They going my way?
This is going to be harder than I thought
O God don’t let there be a row
What with Poland on the one side
Extending a helping hand to Putler’s red army on the other
But such is the fate of my bleeding homeland
Ever the fate of the bleeding Ukraine…

“Were you at the game then?”
smiled the chunky one, cracking open his beer,
and in reply, the long one began a new tune,

We all follow the Arsenal
Over land and sea (and Tottenham!)
We all follow the Arsenal
On to victory,
All together now…

“Victory” sounded threateningly familiar;
and the enthusiasm with which it was proclaimed
made him shrivel all the more inside his dampish corduroys.
How could he and his mates counter that?
Those late blooming flower children with their nylon flags
of blue skies that never dazzled them and wheatfields they’d never smelt;
the handful of blocky roofers whose tongues
slowly milled through the treacle-thick rote learned syllables
You can’t stop Putin! You can’t stop the war!
launched across the indifferent stream of autos
rushing towards Trafalgar Square or Chelsea;
under the no less indifferent gaze
of Monty and Slim and Alanbrooke…

A hefty sort in a rumpled green trenchcoat’s had enough it seems;
but all he does is poke his glasses further up the scabbed bridge of his nose
and slough away from the two towards the door
making room for the burlier hooligan who plumps down
in a hops-and-barley cloud
next to the black girl in the orange nylons;
“Now now, gently me lad,”
comes a voice from across the aisle
as she turns away from the beery purl of innuendo…

“You a cunt are you, mate?” glaring, pink and overheated…
but then the train began to ease into Farringdon
and the tall one tapped his friend on the shoulder
and they spilled out through the hissing doors, singing

We paid for your hats
We paid for your ha-ats
What a waste in council tax,
We paid for your hats

echoing hollowly as they lurched left toward the Way Out

The boy in the jackboots deftly crumpled his patriotic cape
with one sweaty palm, from behind,
kneading it self-consciously like a giant soiled tissue
and stuffing it in the pocket of his field smock.
I can’t stop Putin. I can’t stop no war…
I can change at Moorgate, or Liverpool St.…
Well out of that.…

Meanwhile, back in Battlebridge
Boudicea slept on beneath Platform 9
and Tacitus,
who wised up after his death in Anatolia
nudged gloomy old Achilles in the underworld and began:

Ooh to Ooh to be Ooh to be a Gooner
Ooh to Ooh to be Ooh to be a Gooner

The Next Station is Aldgate
This is a Circle Line train via Victoria and High Street Kensington.

But just as she’d slid her polished fingernail
beneath the cellophane of the sandwich packet
from Prêt-à-Manger, she caught the wet stare
of the waif on the Action Against Hunger UK
pickpocket panel above the door.
“Sorry…”
(a clumsy dance with a mohair pilboxed pear
toting orange Sainsbury’s bags) and she sat down
that side, so as to avoid his eyes; assaulted instead she was
by a poem of Cavafy’s about brown Hellenic gods
and next to it, travelbetter doggerel and flat round noseless phizzogs:

London travellers please take heed
And text a quid to those in need
We know that may seem rather bold
But your fat arse is warm, theirs cold…

She paused with a wedge of the prawn sandwich
poised at her lips and blinked
It can’t say that!

Of course it didn’t;
and the fat arse in the iffy wool pea coat
found a seat anyway
next to the pikey-looking chap off his face already
Let her deal with the big round hazel eyes of poverty
and in she pushed it, mayonnaise and all.

Alas, what has transpired in the penumbra
of the Underground between Moorgate and Blackfriars
will be dragged out into the light of Facebook;
what was whispered in the most hidden of inner rooms
will be shouted from the rooftops by bloggers
snarkily posting Women Eating In Tubes.
The eye of God eternally scans the Galaxy, and right now
the eye of the Samsung Galaxy in the chapped palms
of the kid in the jean jacket
who got on at Liverpool Street
winks in her direction; capturing her
and the hungry urchin on the panel above her
who winks back.

The next station is Tower Hill.
Change here for District and DLR Lines.
This is a Circle Line Train via Victoria and High Street Kensington.

A survey in the Cradle Tower
asks each modern guest:
“Here some spent their most bitter hour
for faith professed.
Would you do less?”
The running tally: Some few tens
would die for their belief,
while thousands, “no.”
As such things go
this must come as a great relief
for today’s Burghleys, and their friends.

Now, on the website, there’s a game
called Cheat the Gaoler.
Reprieve Anne Askew from her shame;
be the bailer
of Thomas More; fail (or
get but one question wrong) he dies.
But the comforting thing:
You can try again,
spring him, and then
He lives! O Death, where is thy sting?
Java beats Tudor at sleights and lies.

But Truth it can’t beat, which is one,
and unforgiving.
Swift is the passage of the sun
above the living.
And once is riven
the traitor’s head from trunk (Behold!)
there’s no “Try Again?”
What’s slain is slain:
More, Askew, Dick and Ed, lie stiff and cold.

The same with you and me.
Does virtual reality
Relieve responsibility?
Jockeys of Norfolk, be not so bold.

The next station is Monument.
Change here for Central and DLR Lines.
This is a Circle Line Train via Victoria and High Street Kensington.

Oof.
His back was knackered with sciatica
(a torture to exercise Osiris)…
Famished… He’d left The Economist on his desk…

It
Promised to be a long ride home tonight
from the flaming shock-top of the bully
to Ravenscourt Park via Guy Fawkes Embankment,

what
with Bob Marley reeking of cannabis
starboard, a fetid egg-salad sandwich
port; aft: a snot-nosed imp flicking his billycock…

But
when the burka-suffocated omi
struggling against an arthritic pram-wheel
and a riptide current of two squalling bantlings

jammed
the rubber tyre in the gap, he sprang up
and hoisted it all in as the doors closed.
England! On the shoulders of such giants you stand.

The next station is Victoria.
Change here for Victoria Line and National Rail services.
This is a Circle Line Train via Victoria and High Street Kensington.

Three blocks from Victoria Station
We recall Christ’s bitter Passion
Neath the slabs of Eric Gill.

Thieves and brigands, lechers, gluttons,
Slothful, misers, snobs and put-ons,
Vow we all to do His will.

Sneakered feet scuff past the tomb
Of Challoner, Plunkett, Hume,
Eyes cast down o’er breaking hearts.

Choking through the Stabat Mater,
Mother pushes pram and daughter
Whimpering in fits and starts.

Pole and Carib, Cockney, Kenyan,
How we love our fellow men, in
Diverse Catholicity,

As we process midst our brothers,
(Sussing up some more than others,
Checking purse-clasps tacitly).

Thus we traipse in brief communion
Past the tesserae of Newman
In our Lenten piety.

Soon, dismissed, the Stations ended,
We’ll ignore those we befriended,
Mailed in cool propriety.

While we trod the cold, grey flagging,
There trod with us, two dogs, wagging
Tails, but calmly, dignified.

Papist bulls, they knew each Station.
When we knelt in adoration,
There they crouched too, side by side.

Like St. Antony’s pious jackass
Whom, a child, I gazed at in Mass
On the plaster firmament.

There’s no creature more deserving
In Westminster, to be serving
God, in unlapsed innocence.

To such saints I make my plea, then:
When I die, scratch out a wee den
In Heaven’s fields, among the least,

Where I might repose, annealed,
To the Paschal Lamb fast sealed
Through the intercession of the beasts.

The next station is Notting Hill Gate.
Change here for the Central Line.
This is a Circle Line Train via High Street Kensington and Paddington.

I’d make my heart your Portobello Road,
For you to stroll about in, endlessly;
Unfettered, and yet never apart from me:
I’d feel your tiny feet on my pericardium
Twisting about, from one delight to another,
And back again, in one ventricle a florist
With tulips and mums and roses
And lilies and lilacs and tiger lilies
And lilies of the valley
And sunflowers as big as dinner plates
And yellower than the Sun in Splendour;
One atrium over is a china shop
Staffed by a very genteel bull with whiskers
As stiff as antique curry-combs
Balancing Haviland Feu de Four Oyster plates,
Ching Quing gravy boats and Eggshell Georgians
On well-pared hooves, snuffling
The Edwin Knowles vitreous sugar bowl
And rubbing it to a shine on his forelock;
(He bows, he’ll have it sent round by courier)
And on you go toward the great cardiac vein
(otherwise Lonsdale Road), to a bookshop,
And in it Hemingway, Bulgakov, Kafka
Gombrowicz and Jack Kerouac in the flesh
Beaning each other with half-filled whiskey bottles.
But when the transom bell rings
And you materialize a Botticellian wonder,
They fix their ties and smooth their hair and bow
(But when you’re gone, the row starts up again,
As soon as you’re out of sight,
Slipping past the anterior interventricular artery)
(Westway Flyover)
Where lies the tiny apex cordis
(St. Charles Square)
and in it, in a dusty corner
between a redheaded Idahoan in trousers made of billiard cloth
and a brickmaker’s son from St. Louis
I sit with four dogs,
Two Giant Schnauzers and two Rottweilers
And all of them named Maks,
the youngest and biggest as foul tempered as me;
But they all fawn over you, their mistress
As my two uncles bow,
Distracting you from the Boddington’s I slip beneath the counter
As poor old Eric Blair,
Down and out in London, depressed
That you haven’t saved a place for him in that bookstore
Though he lives just off the ligamentum arteriosum
(that’s Portobello Mews);
But even at him you smile, as you go out
And in he comes, cadaverous, tubercular
With a faintly Burmese-Parisian High Church air
lifting his black comb-over, and setting it down;
He raises aloft the surreptitious libation
But you’ve gone, and are already at a shop in my other ventricle
With Meredith Frampton and Barbara Hepworth
And Georgia O’Keefe and Henry Moore
Who’s just blown the chisel-dust off a recumbent figure
That looks like you, with Søren in your lap;
How on earth you got that on the train
(AND the Picasso AND the Rousseau)
That takes you back to Sussex Gardens
From Notting Hill Gate
By way of the Grand Canyon, the Via Flaminia and Miami Beach
I’ll never know…
I just thank God you’re home.
Thank God, my Love, you’re always home.


The next station is Paddington.
Change here for Bakerloo, Hammersmith and City Lines, and National Rail Services.
This is a Circle Line Train.

Thumped awake by a Last Train Departing advice,
“Croist!” heaves the bladdered prat from the depths of his adrenals,
“But you’re a bruiser, mate!” Yet Chuck Jagger’s Tommy
Glances up from his letter not to follow his shuffling
Scrapes as he trickles down The Lawn towards Boots (shuttered) and Smith’s (lights out)
But at the black eye-hollows of the bear near the escalator —
Yes, my friend, all the marmalade’s gone; even suet will be rationed

Among us, who have outlived 1984.
But the boats bump gently in the basin, the lights are on
All along Praed Street past the demobbed Post Office
And La Taaza (misspelt by an Arab neon-monger);
All is unchanged, Tommy, except for the colours of the taxis
In this centennial year, which we are to celebrate, I’m told,
By keeping the home fires burning, and those we set afar, as well.

With Easter approaching,
Our slaughtered scape-goat goes off
Bearing our sins away
Down London St., deserted,
Crossing over to Mara House
Nimbly traipsing the footsteps
Tracked through red paint spilt on the road.

*

THE END

*

All right then, a beginning.

You’re right, my love. There’s something missing.
What? Him there? By St. James’ fence, pissing?
Blotto, beshitted, with nirvanic smile?
No, dear — incline
Your pretty head past the turnstile —
See? There — near the dark Serpentine.
A boy, a girl. And them, kissing.

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