Poem — Fleur Adcock

The Old Government Buildings

There it sprawls, embodying magnitude –
but also symmetry – not sure whether
to label itself “buildings” or “building”.

Dignity would demand the plural, but
“Largest wooden building in the southern
Hemisphere” denotes it as singular.

Admittedly it doesn’t look wooden:
it could be stone with a thick coat of paint
(decorators’ beige, I regret to say) –

which indeed must have been the ambition
of the architect who designed it in
“Italianate, Neo-Renaissance” style.

Stone may look handsomely governmental
but earthquakes crumble it. This wood still stands.
What if certain portions of it are now,

following a safety-conscious update,
bogus – fake wood imitating fake stone
in fibreglass? I still seem to like it.

A couple of thousand times I passed it
on trams, on buses, in taxis or cars,
on foot, in or out of school uniform,

alone, in company, pushing a pram,
very occasionally on a bike,
scarcely glancing to confirm its presence,

before it began staring back at me.
Once, when it was half the age it is now
and still an anthill of civil servants,

I actually set foot inside it
to scan the education department
lists for my school certificate results.

Now it’s architectural royalty.
In front of it, in bronze, Peter Fraser,
clutching his hat, coat and briefcase, trots off

to a meeting, flawlessly brought to life
by my old mate Tony Stones, genius.
He modelled my head, one day in Oxford,

out on his lawn (well, clay gets everywhere).
No one has ever gazed with such prolonged
scrutiny right up into my nostrils.

Fleur Adcock

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