For Annie Janowitz
The clocks turned back the night before and so
Arriving late (a thing I hate),
That dim-lit Sunday afternoon,
I sat there in the bright, low-ceilinged hall
Waiting to hear my friend Professor Janowitz
Tell all of us about her man Newton,
And the Poetic Sublime
Her drawly voice, unamplified
Late of Muswell Hill and Barbican,
Treated competently of space, of time,
Surrounded by her departmental peers,
All charming folk, all making notes,
And me (a bloke), inadequate,
Adopting a pose of serene entitlement
Without a pen, pencil, paper or a clue
Apart from Auden's line about
That apple, 'falling towards England',
Was pleased to see my pal so easily work the room.
‘The guy was a guy’, she says, by way of
Hermaneutic. We try and get it straight away,
And ripple approvingly, as if to say
The Principia Mathematica gets our vote
And makes us all feel good about our lot,
Thanks to her graft and insight, eloquence and tact.
Questions were lobbed, sliced back with ease,
Calling on Milton, Anna Barbauld, a French savant
Whose name I didn't catch, and others, many others.
Scores were gently settled, things broke up
And some of us then went for supper in a pub.
I had pork belly, roast parsnips and red wine,
And talked more than I listened
And having split our bill we all went out into the cold
Dark night, paired off in huddled bundles
To walk along the Mile End Road.
Above our little group the old white stars,
Unseen beyond our city sodium,
Were still there for the knowing,
Glittering as they always have to do.
Later, fumbling with the key, I looked up,
Launching half-cut thoughts through
The firmament, the swerve, the cosmos if you will
And ending up, but knowingly, alone.