Columbia Road

I happened just to be thinking
how twenty-one years ago
a girl I had barely met
lay with me day after day
(lay in my head, I mean)
on a white, deserted beach
or tucked in a crevice of wheat.

And I happened to say her name
aloud in Columbia Road
just as my wife and I
were jinking and weaving one Sunday
past stall after stall of flowers:
Carnations? Chrysanths? Tulips?
Make up your mind. It's murder.

My wife just happened to hear.
Bryony? Did you say Bryony?
I knew a Bryony once --
black eyes; her father farmed.
She died in a car, I think,
and there was a brother, or sister,
or both, or something like that...

Then I just happened to see
a square-rigged Victorian ship
sail up to a tiny island
somewhere near the equator,
drop anchor, and put down a boat
which slithered into a bay
of silky, turquoise water
with someone crouched in the prow
who knew from others before him
that here and nowhere else
grew the most beautiful flower
the world had ever seen,
of a colour made to blind you
and scent to drive you mad,
and I happened to see him leap
smartly across the rocks
and scale a crumbling cliff
to find the island nothing
but flakes of barren rock
like a white, deserted beach
or a desert of dead grain.

Andrew Motion

First published in: First and Always (ed. L.Sail), 1988.

Back to poem index.