I will lament your cooling towers, those pale hyperboloids
monumental as a temple for giants. I will lament
their demolition, each falling to its knees in slow motion
like a man hamstrung in battle who dies in the dust
keening for glory that will never be sung.
I will lament the dragon of your superheater
ripping the black prehistoric sun from its prison,
your pulverizer, its fervent teeth, your fly ash and bottom ash.
Let me beat out my grief on your steam drum,
for your cold-side electrostatic precipitator, the effulgence
of your chimney, your heroic deaerator;
for turbines, hoppers, flues, all the bright metal words
you were. You might have reigned ten thousand years.
And I will lament the men whose work was you,
who came to you day piled upon day
and lived in the overall pocket of their lives,
jetting operatives, burners, outage planners,
who go to cancer and heart attacks,
headlamps on a country bend, plastic-covered
chairs in nursing homes, two sticks looped on the wings;
the four gone already, brave dead, from Rotherham,
Teesside, Swansea, caught in the collapsing boiler house
Leave me night drives on the A34, the red-starred
space-station bulk of you holding up the sky.
Without you I am beaconless and there is nothing
majestic in the world.
O Didcot, you who set our kettles trembling,
who lit our lovemaking, each evening endeavour,
by whose alchemy the clammy pallor of our pastry
rose and sang, we lament you.
Joanna Ingham is one of this year’s Mixed Borders poets and is looking forward to being resident in a garden for London Open Garden Squares Weekend in June. Her work has been published in magazines, The Sunday Times and the anthology Best British Poetry 2012 (Salt).
“I wrote this poem on the excellent online course Word Power: Poetry and Ritual. Our tutor, Kate Potts, had us experimenting with spells and litanies. We wrote about everyday rituals and rites of passage. When it came to lamenting, Kate reminded us that we didn’t have to limit ourselves to human subjects. It was great to read and workshop my fellow students’ varied responses.”