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Way back in 1999, when I was exploring London during my time off from work, I came upon an unusual “vendor” on Hungerford bridge.

He was selling: not cheap watches, or handbags made in Taiwan (China was not that hot in 1999), or fast food, but: Poems!

There he sat, on a little stool on a little mat, this scrawny young man with a scraggly thin beard that tapered untidily from his chin. A tea-light lantern before him was surrounded by tiny yellow envelopes, each one bearing the title of the poem that lay within. People barely noticed this intriguing sight.

I stopped, unable to keep my curiosity in check any longer. The poems were all his own creations, he said. He invited me to sift through the envelopes; choose one (or several) that took my fancy, and he would recite it for me, if I wished.

And what did it cost? Whatever the customer thought was reasonable. 

I remember buying a few. He took a look at the title of each envelope, tilted his head slightly, and his half-closed eyes assumed a faraway look as his recited all of them by heart. The words came to life, and I was reminded yet again, that poetry needs to be read aloud to be appreciated to its fullest extent.

The little yellow envelopes seem to have scattered among my things with the passage of time. So it was a blast from the past, to find one of these envelopes today, tucked away inside a pile of music.

The poem is written in the poet’s own hand. Neat writing in black ink, on yellow paper.

 

I met a black man

 

I met a black man

  of large heart

in large body

   out and about

from the door he keeps

  of grand enterprise

that deals in dross

  of language;

who quotes to me

  words of Donne

of Keats and Shakespeare;

  who says to me:

‘How can we conceive,

if men loved Poetry,

what peace we should know.’

 

 

The thousand misfortunes

   harrow man,

but there are one more

  and a thousand visions

which draw the mind

  away and upward

to awe of life;

  which suspend

and countertrack

  the downward drag

of negation;

of flattening

to vulgar average;

  of subtractions

and pollutions.

 

So we discern

  through time and aging

openings in the wall;

  chances of liberty,

possible miracles,

  vistas of beauty —

a shiftless rock

  underneath the mind

surely abiding

  eternally real

 

If I were ploughed,

  punished by life,

cut and harrowed —

  ordure heaped on me —

if pierced to the bone

  with sorrow’s acid,

it was to make

  the humous good,

permeable to moisture,

  fruitful for seed.

  

 

                                              Joseph Marinus, Brockley London

 

poet

 

 

We chatted for a while after he had finished. He seemed nervous when two uniformed policewomen strolled past. He had been hauled up several times by London Borough Council for setting up his little shop without a license. His stool and lantern had been confiscated a few times; the poems did not seem worth the trouble.

 

I looked for him upon my next visit to Hungerford Bridge, half a year later, in the next Millennium. He was nowhere to be found. I wondered if he had moved “shop” somewhere else. I never saw him again.

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