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10 February 2021

The NS Poem: Midland

A poem by Grey Gowrie, the former Conservative cabinet minister, who has died aged 81.

By Grey Gowrie

The yellow gantry above a sad
scatter of poplar by the railway side
to heft containers: beautiful, haphazard,
in massed colours piled, rust-red, blue-grey
like old Levi’s or a bright Léger,
their raggedy labels, stencilled destinations
tell us our city will be dragged away

and be dispersed beyond archaeology or tariffs
humanoid arms on wheels make slack of steel,
shunt the goods of an old economy
east to an ocean. Here, in a stacking yard,
a wrong turn taken, all at sea
in a small car with irritable instructions
whispered invisibly on the mobile,

we may escape in wonder at this tiered
luggage: loudspeakers and break linings,
tins of emulsion, silent pneumatic drills,
two-by-four shelves for self-assembly
kitchens. Safe in a world of things,
hemmed in ourselves by metal, we try to find
the way out or, at least, a causeway
home in the certain knowledge that what kills

is certainty; signifying; failure to see
momentary slivers of occasion –
the golden crane, the silver-paper tree –
that surface momentarily in dreams
like metal-seeking light or like the sun’s
waltz down some lost avenue of the mind.

Grey Gowrie (1939-2021) was a poet, lecturer and Conservative cabinet minister in Margaret Thatcher’s second administration. He published several poems in the New Statesman and his “Third Day: New and Selected Poems” was published by Carcanet in 2008.

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This article appears in the 10 Feb 2021 issue of the New Statesman, End of the affair