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Old Town

By Imogen Forster

Pigeons work the damp setts

of this high-windowed street,

patient, deliberate. Closes fall away

from its fishbone spine, swallow

daylight down their narrow throats.


Women trot on pattens, gather

their skirts, loup over puddles.

Fleeing the wire-sting of rain

they stand under eaves to barter

their bright beads of news.


A boy kicks a stone along the stank.

In a grassy court the sun strikes

a harled wall: ochre, red of ox-gall,

ox-blood, the warm reek of a flesher’s

slab under the pend’s broad arch.


The moon climbs a stair, perches

on a turret; shadows walk on stilts.

Men in wigs call for sedan chairs, black

gowns worm-worn to the silk-and-paper

thinness of a moth’s wing.


Chimney smoke’s ripped by the wind;

in a doorway a man sleeps on straw,

hears in his ale-dream the far-off pitch

of fife and drum, bell-chimes and

the salt-sharp cries of gulls and crows.

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