When I was a boy,
they waltzed me into the wall
of examinations. I was served
a worm of string,
and a slab of paranoid paper.
Women in ginger slippers
patrolled the hall,
skating the iron silence
with wide eyes in the sides
of wizened heads.
I huddled my limbs, and waited
for bells to ring which didn’t:
instead, I poised my
special pen, steady and deaf
until they tidied my name away,
and turned me out.
I’ve led a fugitive existence, since:
no good, it seems, at being good.
To help my child,
I have made the front room a replica
of all examination halls.
To quell his nerves,
meals are invigilated. I watch
(as does my wife) the spoons pass
the test of his lip.
He has memorised the membrane
of every pea upon his plate.
Ah, see, see! the sightless, the flight fleet
Of squealing squeakers, a wisp-whiskered trinity:
How needless, heedless of wife’s knife’s vicinity,
Throat-threatening, they run than rather retreat!
Now tails trimmed, a timorous trio’s feet
Come tip-tumbling in marvellous, mewling affinity
Of mice! In a trice, with One-in-Three divinity,
They chase the chopper, which lightly lopped each seat!
And what harvester, reaper, weeps not at such horrible halving,
When lengths, limp, lie strength-ended, and behind
Is bare, each stropped, stripped, cropped by her carving?
How hard is the farm-mistress’ arm to their harmless kind:
For the fast-footed, fated field-mice, parlour-bent, were starving,
Thieving for a cheese, for a rind, yet ah! were all blind!
with apologies to Siegfried Sassoon
I knew a simple combat troop
Deployed in ground offensive group
Who whistled on a hostile mission
And smiled with surgical precision.
In trenches, R & R denied,
His weapons system by his side,
He staged a friendly fire zone
And fell redundant on his own.
Now pray, you Sun-fed crowd, which likes
To cheer exploratory strikes,
You’re not, in theatres overseas
I shrug my dumb shoulders,
my see-through heart bobbing
on radio waves.
The ghost of a smirk
lurks on the ledge of my lips.
Or I pine, a shadow
of a shadow of myself,
like breath on a temperate day
or a portrait of taste.
I am in love with a nurse.
I study her shoes, their clop,
the white linen boat which crests
the wave of her hair,
and the broken watch which she wears,
her medal, on her chest.
In heat, I am practically
gelatinous, almost a mirage,
a haze of desire.
Now I am randy for bandage.
I wrap raw gauze round my ankles,
my feet, and soon I am
a rough pair of puttees.
The cotton is hot. I ravel
my thighs, my hips, my belly
in swathes of importunate shape.
Cummerbund, napkin, webbing, chinstrap.
I slice lines for mouth, eyes, ears.
My skull bulges.
Now I am mannequin,
now I am man. This is
I hide in the hospital store
with the swabs and prosthetics.
Hearing the pedantry of her heels,
her beddable voice, I tremble.
And think of her frank hands