Painting on Southbank

This is a poem from the time I had left the U.S. with a backpack and was Couchsurfing London. Medically underweight from eating one meal a day on dwindling credit and not able to legally work or apply for public funds abroad, I went to paint by the Thames one day and got to have an interesting conversation.

“Painting on Southbank”

“Those are nice paintings. Do you sell them?”
A stranger with his friend asks with a grin.
It’s cold but beautiful under the bridge.
I’m hungry but I’m happy, and my smile lets them in.

“Well thanks, I guess I’d like to”—my unarmed reply.
“That would be a crime and we’d boot you,”
plainclothes security’s gold-toothed reply.
“What’s the threat that responds to?”

I can’t help but want to know.
“It’s the damn Gyps running cons here,”
says the one scratching below.
“So you kick out artists for fear of thieves?”

Quietly packing up my things
as the argument’s shaking begins.
London loves barbed wire and guards—
the England of my dreams in shards.

But while the Parliament burned over the Thames,
Turner sketched and painted gems.
When his specimen grew old,
Fleming paid heed to the mold.

Ours is a time of fire and of rot.
Time when the weird ones are needed,
get to use what we’ve got.
No time to mourn what it’s not.