Where Effra meets Thames

Sous les pavés, la plage!
Paris, 1968

Contours sink
give way to angles;
the arc of my back
pulled tight
against the flow.

River crossing
north to south: east
a sudden switchback
defies horizontals; west
water sucks itself
towards the eye
drawing nearer.

Waste in heaps
on the green banks
of the Thames;
scum left
at low tide
a sea-stain
on the high walls
which hold it
like water in a bath:
seagulls soar
in the suburbs.


Where, rising
from high ground

a gurgling stream
calls, adding
its small still voice
to the airwaves
of this city.

Effra, coursing wild
from the woods
down from the woods
to the place where
gypsies lived and
told fortunes on palms
where we picked buttercups
from grass, plague-pit
beneath our feet

Away on the river
silver craft
into draughty docks
under studio flats.

Effra cutting
its own course
under gutters;
sewage flow
like the tide:
turds bob
at 8am lunch bedtime;
springs up seeming clear
Belair. They say spirits
come up for air too,
next to the old schoolhouse:
childhood stuff; here
the affluent
take the waters.

At times, cricket
played on a flood-plain
whites soaked through;
drains burst
in heavy rain:
traffic lights submerged.
The Half Moon
stands in three feet.


Then Effra in its
dry gravel bed,
water lane under the green hill
it shaped itself at Brockwell.

Under tarmac, Effra
swills in drains
only witness
to every crime
and one eye to the Thames.

Let’s forget
the river: block it up
its seasons and its rages.
Let’s shout him out
and seal him up
beneath the Railton Road.

Effra! Effra!
calling at night

Gurgling burbling
babbling screaming
hushed beneath concrete:
tongues saturated with
Effra Effra
moist on the lips
of passers-by
pacing the high street
in the rain
; scent
the sweetness
of Caribbean sun:
mango, pineapple
grapefruit: juices
run from the spaces
left by stalls in the half-light
of evening, flood
the grey gutter grooves
and drain fast in the rain
falling drop by caustic drop
into the darkness where
still water swills before
the gush.

And into which
we throw the misty ends
of cigarettes.

Effra under the police station.
Effra exploding in 1942.

Effra drawing its own lines
below the traffic; rats
swim against the flow
under queue and cone
pop up squeaking in the Tube
as newspapers rustle the arrival
of the hot cold air.


Effra! Effra!
stream and sewer –
your surge and swell
a constant in this city;
rise to touch for a second
then gone again
until the salt-rush
of the Thames
at Nine Elms, Vauxhall:
reaching the mouth at last
time for only one gasped breath
one last word to dig you up
this buried life, your water-hoard.


First published in Keystone (2001)



  1. catherinefrazer says:

    I love this. CF

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