By stealth a city happens
on the maps and in the annals.
First settlers gather
where a town’s born out of chance
and stays close to its river banks
until at last the traces of its genesis are gone –
clay and wattle are exchanged for wood,
wood replaced by stone: the building blocks
of castle tower, the chapel on ground
once dedicated to pagan gods.
Open spaces are colonised by those who build,
destroy and build again
their settlements and sanctuaries
between the cess pits
and where the court of conscience sits.
Their gates and fences cannot repel
conqueror, neighbour, the carrier of plagues,
or the music that makes young maids
learn their first dance-steps.
There are laws and punishments,
all for the common good.
The cartographer comes and sketches
the many angles and the rough edges,
the graveyards and ghettoes
that are barely distinguishable.
He walks to the hillcrest to view the belfries
that one by one are heaven-sent.
On his map he draws the routes that wander
further from their source – the heartland
of the city where things get lost
for a thousand years: coins and combs,
the imprint of a house not found
until the city lights up its alphabet of neon.