Death of a Veteran – south London 1973

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Long listed for the 2023 Urban Tree festival writing competition

Arthur Sparrow reads “Death of a Veteran – South London 1973”

Pollarded by countrymen,
Spared by Victorians,
And Edwardians, as London sprawled.
A soot black, lichen less, stag horned giant, 
Rooted in sticky toffee clay.
Rising above advancing
Waves of terraces of terraces
And buses, the 12, 176 and 185.

A sapling in a hedgerow,
Shielded from grazing cattle, 
Lammas leafed and oak appled 
On a terraced hillside field. 
There, silent, but set aglow, 
By the distant Great Fire.

Tall enough now for roosting rooks, 
And in the fading light
A part of Palmer’s ‘delicious dream’ 
Intervisible with Blake’s infant visions 
Of angels in trees,
On Peckham Rye.

Chimney smoke pea soupers, 
In time, acidified the bark. 
Luftwaffe photographed, 
Witness of the Blitz. 
By now,
A relic of sloughed rural skin.

A teenage boy,
Smoking and brooding in his nest unseen, 
Where the trunk branched
And spread, loftier than St Pauls below. 
Blackcap, chiffchaff, perched above 
And once, a pied flycatcher, 
On route to Welsh woods.

They said plant a tree in ’73
But they took one down,
For a bungalow called Zennor, 
In time, shaded and coloured 
By a flowering cherry tree.

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  • Arthur Sparrow

    Arthur Sparrow

    In my dotage but still walking and game for a laugh


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