They said he was a cross-grained man, all prune
and prism, face like the bark of the trees he nursed;
said he was born with a kink and pity his wife,
poor lamb, who found out the hard way and hid
his shotgun when the blue devils struck;
said best not to think of the touch of cold steel,
better to find compassion and forgive.
What no one could forget was the note he’d propped
against the moca machine. He’d put no signature,
just the spidery words: Don’t go into the bathroom.
There’s a moment at sunrise when morning has
a melon glow, and shutters sip pale cock-crow
light that sifts in rumours on marble floors;
your smell is a scarlet sound in my ears,
the taste of your freckles chimes in my throat,
endearments plane and curl in my mouth,
and I’m stirred to wake your body caked in sleep,
to lap my finger in the julep of your flesh,
bead my lips;
behind my lids, stop-lights fizz,
I soften into drowsiness once more.
Later, the notes of my naked soles on tile,
I spread the jalousies and afternoon falls in
like an eavesdropper, dressed to kill in summer’s skin.
You yawn, stretch, your scent leans
towards me as you unsprawl from the sheet,
legs the rust of desert skies;
the misty dazzle of the fridge
ignites a silhouette around you.
Later still, when dusk has led away
the sun and treetops gargle stars,
and all that’s left of twilight is bite-marks
of birds, we exult in the coolness dribbling down
the moon-slit night, and I suck in the sherbet
of the sky till bubbles eat my tongue.
It’s a quirk of fate that, as George Sanger’s wife
(nom de cirque Pauline de Vere) is reincarnating herself
as Britannia for the parade in her gilded ten-ton carriage,
‘Lord’ George’s star turn, Charlie, is remembering Africa
and revelling in the smells of Watney Street market;
that, as Mme S. (a splendiferous figurehead) flies
off the handle because her pachyderm is missing,
Charlie’s plundering the costermongers’ barrows,
which is when he gets wind of the boy – let’s imagine
it’s Johnny Swallow, future trainer of elephants –
dreaming his way past stalls and back-pedalling crowds;
and the only sound is a collective drawn breath
as he wraps his trunk around Johnny’s waist
and hoists him aloft as if he were George S. Junior,
so that Johnny finds himself swinging up
to the top of the world, not knowing whether to laugh
or cry, and trying to hold on to his porridge.
The sacred ring has emptied, but stone echoes within the stones
and winds lend chorus to our coronach. He was my father, a shaper
of metals, and passed to me the tarsal defect in his feet. This is the
site where ancient solstice rites reside, where far-flung island tribes
still flock to feast, to share their lore and ken. It’s where he’ll lie,
many a crow’s flight from his native Alps, in a wood-lined grave,
knees bent, facing north; around him, tenfold the goods he’ll need
for his next life, signals of his trade and sway. In a land of flint and
stone, the coppersmith was king.