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.

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