The Third Line
"The third line of protection would be systems of shelters."
Julian Andrews, London's War: The Shelter Drawings of Henry Moore (2002)
I am talking about the third line
of a sketch covertly drawn
in a close-held notebook:
the artist recording not a view,
but view averted: what struck him
on entering what was, for now, their bedroom.
So, step back. The ordeal happened to other people:
Moore wasn't the one standing in the street
by station's entrance, clutching
a bulky armload of blankets,
shuffling along with the crowd at sirens' sound;
he didn't descend under air damp like a cave
sealed off; he wasn't marking off territory
as they did, coats spread over concrete
platform, re-making in hope of stillness
a space designed for motion.
Nor did he wait for hours, like their forms
slumped on a bench or seated in a doorway,
hands drooped in useless leisure.
they were as strange to each other as he to them,
not by choice making their beds together.
Moore paced the platform in a casual way,
then turned a corner or paused on a landing
to pluck a shape or phrase for later use.
His hand conveyed receding lines
of people poured together in long rows
into the tunnel that served as a foyer to sleep.
His sketch, like a blanket, soaks up their outline:
lamps too dim in the damp, cupping
light in its swells; one garment covers all, but for limbs that
stick out from it, the restless molding to the platform
through mottled nights unruled by separate hours.
They cannot see where they lie the world outside
of broken buildings, red light crossed with smoke,
from which the artist emerges to walk home,
his notebook, every page traversed with lines,
tucked in a pocket.
Where is the fourth line drawn?
Sixty years later we get no air-raid warning,
only the banal passenger jets
come to perform a whole new feat with perspective:
charged to illustrate the convergence of all lines
at vanishing point, a place for thousands to sleep
under one dense, gritty blanket of stone.