old london Ancestors
Ian C. Smith

Walking London, inventing truth, searching. Bleeding Heart Yard! where the Dorrits lived. Fictional boundaries dissolving. Queue for the census room, clamour of Dickens' people refuting or confirming old rumours. This one sells potatoes. Prison for that one. The poorhouse, yet another baby dies. No wonder genealogy's such a goer, history's never fully told. Back on the streets zigzagging towards the Thames, dodging taxis and buses. In Queensland House a koala, looking baffled, watches traffic beneath a suffocating sky. Homesickness is confused. Fleet Street now, treading in Dr. Johnson's footsteps, turning into the lane leading to St. Bride's, wedding cake architecture, where journos held their annual service. Forgive us our tabloid sins. My olds married here in 1815. Sitting in a rear pew overhearing talk of Napoleon and Wellington. Bells pealing, the city's muffled hum, my breathing. To the river. Moored craft, and beyond, Southwark and Lambeth. Horses snort, lightermen swear. The Marshalsea's up there, past the furred stones of those fog-shrouded banks. Meant to buy a map. The River Fleet has vanished. Rising in Hampstead Heath, it flowed past the Fleet Prison, through the city, emptying into the Thames' sullen waters which froze in the C17th. Punch and Judy on ice, roasted spuds for sale, music, the quest for happiness. Time slips across the water like centuries falling away, and the wind numbs, wrapping me in shadow. Big Ben strikes, jolts the mind from yearning back to Londinium. I won't buy that map. Maps can't tell you much.