Saturday, 19 July 2014


How wonderfully has his invention facilitated the meeting of thousands of fond and happy lovers.’ (Thomas Summerside)

The story of steam,
history’s hiss 
through the passing
of engines and 
clapped-out hours.
The pereptual urge
to move
into the peace
of sleeping valleys;
iron dreams
and the nagging drive
of cruel ambition 
on the banks of the sliding Tyne.
You knew all this George,
how violent life is,
as, thoughtless in your youth, 
you stole a blackbird’s eggs,
developing an understanding
of mankind’s urge
to rip forests apart,
to make ways
through gardens and castles, 
for commerce
and selfishness to have their way.
That and the wonderful offshoots
like lovers
getting together
and children laughing
in cultural deserts.

Your broad Northumbrian tongue
echoed along rails,
barked orders
to force idle workers
to spark the engines
that scared the crows
and brought terror to horses and cattle
with the fiery blast of mechanical power.
Your ambition surged roughshod
over delicate flowers,
more interested in the mechanics of time 
and fixing watches
than the whispers that the clocks of dandelions
heard in the breeze.
Mister Practicality, 
though you knew that the human lot
ended up in vapour,
you still told the pitmen’s sons that the earth
was round,
taught algebra to the lads
in a curiosity shop
of working models,
self-acting planes
and perpetual motion machines.

In your litttle garden,
you grew gigantic leeks, astounding cabbages,
scarecrow ams to fly in the wind
and a sundial to record the ticks of days.
Hammering the flaming hours
into the rickety shape of Blucher,
you moved people along the way,
crafted the valves, the rods and cylinders
of life
into a breathing thing
that lolloped along,
careering like you
into a famous night.
It did not come without a price;
My Lord, they can’t imagine
how much you scraped along in the dirt,
the bursting blisters on your feet,
your hurting fingers as you began to write.
Wriggling out of the Militia,
you earned everything you got,
to suffer the deaths of wives and daughter
and the blinding of a father.
Weeping bitterly on the West Moor to Killingworth road,
thinking of leaving for America,
you got to your own station in the end.
with Ferguson’s ‘Astronomy’ in your hardy hands,
you gave us many a glorious smoke-filled day,
brought young lovers together on platforms
awash with the smell of smoke
and the sparks of hearts 
spreading lightning across the land. 


from 'North Tyneside Steam', Northern Voices Community Projects, 2014.

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