the golden/ grime age

by A.B.

foul and olid water flows
beside the ashy streets

sweating cobbles clad in soot
exhale smoky clouds,
escaping into desperate blue

coach wheels pirouette in agony
conveying dubious figures iced with pinstripe bowler hats.

smelling salts, kerchiefs
– a crinolined lady –
fine gown brushing the road surface;
grime climbs it like a ladder,
clinging on for dear life

against the harried backdrop
Ben mindlessly strikes

lazy bell-boys seeking shelter
behind a well-thumbed Penny Dreadful;
a shield from the world of London streets

shoe-polishers run wild,
pass on the gossip to the crossing-sweeper
who relates it to the boy
who will today be mangled in the poor-house.

shamble streets are
just one kiss from the opposite neighbour

clanging iron;
locomotives taking a drag;
chain-smoking coal;
belching steam into the air
(while stokers wipe their leather brows
beside the churning flames.)

salty Thames breezes
waft odours of the
fish and fishwives selling them;
costermongers with their barrows
flower girls deflowered,
rosy cheeks and daisy chains all marred with soot
from workhouse floors
and secret overseer kisses.

and those squalid squares
where typhoid’s king
and drains of filth
can gurgle through the streets
bypassing beggar men’s cold feet.

it’s the exuberance of poverty
beneath a placid, pudding monarch.

shoe wipers, private clubs
and coach horse blinkers
breathing pistols
Lambeth shivs
and London Bridge

a golden age, they say:
although I see more grime than gold.