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PICTURE THIS:/ FOR THE 100TH BIRTHDAY OF QUEEN ELIZABETH THE QUEEN MOTHER, by                 Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography
First Line: My dream of your birthday
Subject(s): Birthdays; Elizabeth, The Queen Mother (1900-2002); Bowes-lyons, Elizabeth

My dream of your birthday
is more like a wedding -
the August sky
confused with confetti,
no, not with confetti,
with photograph-falls
where the steady gaze
of the century's eyes
captures your ages
unguarded or posed.
Nobody heard the blackbird chink-chinking
on the level lawn but it was always there,
declaiming its birthright; and nobody saw
how lichen blistering the drive had mixed
green and gold in stubborn coats-of-arms,
but they clung on. The frame of everything
was Glamis with its battlements and towers,
and you side-saddle on your boxy grey
inside the moment as it froze and held:
your life your own and all the world unknown.
1914-18: SERVICE
The shutter opens and the world expands.
It's Hawtrey at the Colly for your birthday
but he can't be heard, or not heard
as he wants - outside, along St Martin's Lane,
a people-torrent runs and will not wait
to get the enemy. The show goes on.
And then goes on elsewhere, in wards
where nursing changes strangers into brothers
while your real brothers pack their bags
and leave as strangers, or else go for good.
Jazz, New Look, new plunging necklaces
and snap! you're cornered in a studio
where beauty holds its own but loses edge
and makes a soft advertisement for love.
For love which finds its focus as a bride
and keeps its nerve, and sees its way,
then rides the shimmer of its own delight
returning to the world the gift it gives
in private - tongue-tied tongue set loose,
the head confirming what the heart believes.
In public; chairs into thrones; people
to subjects, and the shudder of transition
rippling through the camera's eye - his sombre face
an effigy as inescapably the crown
is lowered; your face tender with the load
it brings to bear, and what it means to hear
beyond the shooshing satins and the stone
Guernica crumbling, fire in Palestine,
and Germany again - earth groaning
as it shifts its weight and stalls in misery.
1940: BLITZ
THE PALACE CUP: then comes the blast
and choking lift that brings you where
you look East Enders in the face - not land
exactly now but roof-spars, earth-in-shreds,
a gluey crater which was once indoors,
and you as one of us - or like enough
to make a crowd of wind-frayed kids
and peering mums, and husbands jostling
with the press-men in their burly coats,
all think you are. And thank their lucky stars.
Basalt blackness at his funeral
and basalt stillness: through your veil
the fossil-face of grief, the stricken gaze
which bounces back the flash-lights to their source
but masks a working brain, and sees the years
and years ahead the way an acrobat
might see a tightrope and the audience
below: the dizzy space, the camera-pops,
the swaying line between thin air and ground
and every single step bourne up by company.
The years wind on, the world and family
develop into colour and due season: winter
poppies, Spring in May, the grassy Ascot drive
half summer-greeting, half-acknowledgement.
And everything a system made of signs: the marches
past, foundation stones, the plaques and special trees
which prove your life in ours yet make it seem
a secret too - the way a salmon swells in secret
through the currents of a pool you stand beside,
and glances at your fly, and keeps its course.
1997: LATE ON
No changes, on the face of it: the balconies,
the open smile and wave, the garden parties,
and the hats, the hats, the hats, all pictures
in our albums or our heads along with these:
the photos no-one took of you -
the grandmother-confessor-friend, the mourner
at divorces and the rest, the worldly watcher
of the world who shows the world no changes
on the face of it: the balconies, the open wave
and smile, the hats, the hats, the hats.
My dream of your birthday
is more like a wedding,
the August sky
confused with confetti,
and lit with the flash
of our camera-gaze -
the century's eyes
of homage and duty
which understand best
the persistence of love.

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