Below the floating aeroplane
blackbirds sprouted from the red roofs
and the hillsides puffed with white sheep:

it was my first England

and my brain was greedy as a plough.

All my reading life I knew I’d come.
This, this is my fistful, I said –
clutching my ticket to Leicester Square –
of all my childhood’s English things,
the crows, the snow, the filthy Thames.

And all that day, I’ll swear, my head,
my shaking head was England’s.

Show me rain, the empire, that cuisine,
or foxes in a hunt, and, even this,
I could not think a thing amiss.

It was my first England
and my brain was greedy as a plough.

Months in, the trap’s the cash I’m earning.
I stink of it. I cannot find a house

without TV. I cannot find a child
without a phone. And then the paradox,
the paradox is the beggar
hunched beneath the vacancies,
a deserter of fortunes.
And so I cannot feel at home,
though everything longs to belong to me.
Your beggars have stolen my certainty,
that clear line in the storybook’s window

that as a child I traced like a promise,
my finger darkening imperceptibly the clean page.
No one in a book is this alone.

Why you want to go to this cold thief place?
Jean asks again, this time in the icy screech
of Bond Street’s Underground.
For years she has been like a stone in my brain,

and I can’t answer her.
Except, this time
inside that metal shriek I hear a sound
that brings it back. Leaving my child mind
I have forgotten the prophecy of the storybook.
I have forgotten that I ever remembered
the sound of a field crumbling in the plough,
and the cry of a stone in its blades.