'Incident on a Holiday' features the words forming the title of my 2001 book, The Cat Without E-Mail - the point made here is that human beings might be controllable by technology but animals like the cat and natural phenomena like fire are more elusive.

Incident on a Holiday


The cat between the tables is not worth attention,
But the most of us is closed in plastic now,
Magnetic so we stick to their powerful fingers.
I have to swipe to be a citizen.
I have to stand still while they target me.

Though one night on a coast of this vast and
Increasing inattention, a disco selling
Illusions to themselves for a sizable profit
Goes up in flames in the small hours
– A blaze of interest on the coast opposite.

In this hinterland, however, no one explains it,
Not even the backstreet barber, the big
Conspiracy theorist, who avoids my eyes
In his pocked mirror; or the extrovert licensee
Working faster but very quietly, mopping his bar;

Not even the check-out girl taking one by one
The grapefruit rolled down in a ritual
To break the boredom of her dreadful day
And start her chatting – she doesn’t as much as smile
When I ask her, ‘Who would trash a lovely disco?’

– And claim the insurance on all the pretty dreams?
What sort of destructive decency? There was
No cc-tv watching, no bar code beeped
When some unpoliced fingers scratched the match into flame.
And now there is a gap in the esplanade…

Though otherwise things go on pretty much the same:
The barber thanks me and tells me to Take Care,
The licensee puts my drink down – ‘There you go!’ –
The waters eject our pollution onto our shores,
And the cat, without e-mail, susses the customers

In the Sea Cafe, and refuses their burger bits.

from Collected Poems (Enitharmon, 2006), copyright © Alan Brownjohn, 2006, used by permission of the author

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