“Passing through” and other poems by Betty Thompson


A stream of them – long and
ribboning before they were inflated;
breath-filled they turned into
globes and cylinders: fat demi-lunes
ably shaped by the long-fingered
magician who, in his downtime
offstage from the Hippodrome,
relaxing by the fire, legs stretched
across the hearth, would plunge
those long hands into his pockets,
to pull out rubber neon
proto-chameleons. How he joined
limbs and torso, how he conjured
heads, ears and tails, I never knew,
just watched this flow of colour
and shape become a rabbit or a cat.
My own cat retreated to the yard
when this post-performance
played out: a narrow space, walled
high with London bricks, it shielded
her but not me from the fear I felt
when he threw his voice out there
to ricochet into the kitchen,
a prelude to his suite of tricks.
There were cards among his props
that he showed and shuffled, got
some gasps in return, but not from
me. As for the bouncy animal he
gave me – a red rabbit with swelling
ears – I pressed till I found a bursting
point. This was after I had seen,
through the back window of his
parked-up van, a cage of doves.

Passing Through

Do you find it dark in the underpass?
Crab of the thorn, a small light for small people.
The travel time is short. I’ve counted the steps
From start to finish. What’s more, St. Lucy
Blesses passers-through, steadies their heartbeat.
Her icon is set into the curvature of the archway.
Look up at the gold leaf glinting. Then emerge
To see the vista of a city farm, its luminous glass
Porch, eau-de-nil paling, fronds of faded lavender
On the verge. If you are there, the street is not
Abandoned. On sad days, I try to remember
The name of Johnson’s cat, memorialized in bronze
In a London square. It comes eventually, bringing solace.

Note: Line 2 is from ‘The Haw Lantern’ by Seamus Heaney.


In those minutes close to twilight
when the air shines
and the sky is pale as layered muslin,

trees swayed in a line along the quay.

In the river’s waves –
vivid as ink wedges on a Japanese scroll –

in the curving, widening river,
and on the road above, a bus appeared.

Its ample shape grew.

Gérard Depardieu in Eustace Street

His fleshy face aslant fills the screen
here in this vaulted room
           still light enough to see the patina on oak

though the lights are down
as I sit in a plush row where
benches used to seat the friends who met here

in silence mostly
unless one felt impelled to speak
 about the light within.

We too sit in silence
looking up at the screen of light
receiving its forms and tints, tracking their force,

tasting the full        mouthed vowels and moist consonants
of its habitués this day
        who, sojourning in the drab part of town,

relocate for a scene or two
        to its volcanic hinterland
to daze themselves with light and air.

Gérard Depardieu in Eustace Street and other poems © Betty Thompson

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