The Key to the Kingdom

By Philip Gross Philip Gross
It's not exile, homes and families behind
us, where we meet. It happens anywhere,
               now: a stateless
state of no name, quietly seceding
from the crumbling empires round us,

without stamps or Eurovision entries.
No-one does it with a rough guide in a week.
               You inhabit it
or nothing. Like this: in a pavement cafe
you blink and you seem to surprise them,

the crowd, all its separate faces at once,
coming out of solution like crystals,
               like a rush of starlings
or the breeze that lifts the canvas awning
now and dents your cappuccino froth

with a crisp little sound. And that's it:
between breaths, just between you and me
               as if; yes,
QED. You are received. This is
the freedom of the city, and the key

to the kingdom, and its borders ripple
outwards like a frill of breaking wave
               onto flat sand,
a wavering line already fading leaving
spume-flecks high and dry,

a prickling on your palm; you're five
years old, looking up at the whole sea,
                            will you laugh or cry?

Source: Poetry (October 2001).


This poem originally appeared in the October 2001 issue of Poetry magazine

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October 2001
 Philip  Gross


Philip Gross lives in Bristol, England and teaches creative writing part-time at Bath Spa University College. He won the National Poetry Competition in 1982 and was shortlisted for the Whitbread Prize in 1998. A number of his seven collections of poetry, including The Wasting Game (Bloodaxe),  have been recommended by the Poetry Book Society.

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Poems by Philip Gross

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Cities & Urban Life, Social Commentaries, Youth, Relationships


Poetic Terms Free Verse, Metaphor

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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