John Arnold is a member of the Kent & Sussex Poetry Society, now living in Suffolk. His poems have been widely published in various magazines. His previous booklet collections of poetry are: The Amber Cup (Outposts, 1975), Ninepin (The Evelyn Press, 1989), and Zarathustra Flies East (The Evelyn Press, 1995). This poem appeared in the Society’s Folio #72, published in 2018.
where the Ridge Road meets the Mall:
scene of a lovers’ tryst – some say –
where a womanising maharaja
eloped with the Viceroy’s daughter, no less.
For now, a Sunday stroll
on this wide hill-top promenade
for Shimla’s well-to-do,
to see and be seen,
an outing complete with donkey rides
and helium balloons for the kids.
If it happened, nothing came of it:
both families forbade the marriage
(if ever it had been proposed) –
just a frisson of gossip,
an object of moral censure or silent envy
for the bored grass widows of the Raj.
Look out into a pale blue distance
of layered foothills,
overlaid with a slender dark calligraphy –
the outstretched limbs of cedars,
their pattern as simple and compelling
as youthful desire.
From this vantage point
one can only wonder:
why the desperation to leave such a place?
The myth might be punctured
by tiresome facts,
for on that fateful night in 1892
the maharaja was barely one year old –
but myths we need.
The sunlight reddens, fades,
the breathless air now chill.
A balloon escapes, up, seems molten
in a flawless twilight sky.
And out there, afloat in that haze,
the high Himalaya, the merest whisper
of snow-capped peaks.