O Captain! My Captain!

27 07 2014

He claps lined hands together,
rubs one through the palm of the other
as if he is testing its grain.
His tongue is swung over
the gate of his grin like a leg
that kicks in time to the clock hands.
Not daring to turn, we all check the hour
through his face, see how his eyelids pull
tautly and tremble when the lunch bell comes.
And then he staggers forward for the chase
to clear a solar system of balls from the yard. But,

today he stops, his frame ducks
in the doorway, and turns.
‘No one late this afternoon. No excuses.’
His foot draws a slice out of the ox blood
carpet tile; it guillotines literature in two,
announces lunch.
Usually, we run up the hill
to my house in time for Neighbours, Home and Away,
fry the bacon black, throw it down the hatch,
then back, back, back,
in time for the fifth period bell. But,

today we refuse to rush the plan
we’ve rehearsed. Hudd’s bag heaves
with goods nabbed: chorizo, quail eggs, cigars,
sangria. He strategises on stealing
the absurd from Iceland – theming
thefts to evade suspicion. He taps his nose,
‘No one inspects the Spanish exhibition.’
We watch Dead Poets’ Society in confessional quiet
until he purges himself of his mum’s worries:
all the missed lessons; the Advocaat bottles;
pornos wrapped up in university prospectusus. Prospectusi. Prospectuses. ‘But,

today we’ll call the school and pretend to be God’, I say
we’ll reassure his mum to seize her own days.
He won’t look at me though,
he wants to sew the introductions
back in the books. And so we return,
too late to escape punishment, two heads
for the axe. We expect him sullenly staring
out the at the car park, brooding
at the bumpers backed up against the window,
dwelling on our transgression,
a hand rested on a telephone. But

Instead he’s standing on a desk, helicoptering
his arms, vibrating the room, stamping
on Jones’ book, screaming, face blooded
by belief. The boys are in triumph,
applauding as one congregation. Their chorus
carries him aloft. And I understand too late,
that we are outside, silent and holding nothing.

O captain! my captain,
you didn’t make our seconds slow
you didn’t crave to see us gone,
you ached for us not to go.





The Girl with a Ponytail (Picasso, 1954)

27 03 2013

(published in Cheval 4)

Image

 

Subtle, for him. Understated. Flattering even.

That first painting was angled with beauty enough

to lure me. Postman blue, pond green. Shy lips

and one eye, wide enough for two.

 

He sketched me furiously in June. Always

demanding my hair tumbled. Winding my fringe

between oily fingertips, breathing wine,

gesturing bottle after glass.

 

Every portrait a picture of a sculpture,

a Greek bust in Gallic July dress.

 

The signature brought the world to Vallauris

and each time I smiled at the cameras,

dimpled when he shared the lens. He painted

in the evening only now. His colours

darkened and he insisted my collar

inched lower to reveal secrets I would not tell.

 

In the last nights he sat me on his knees

I confessed he had become my second father.

He was sullen in August and relinquished

with the final composition, without goodbye.

 

The final painting revealed only my naivete: 

my ponytail a noose for an old man to risk

his reputation, my breasts a rectangle of

rheumatic grey. My webbed ringlets, a duplicitous stare

and my fingers knotted in his frustration.





Old Coat

27 10 2012

The scent slid in like evening tide,

familiar as the retriever on the lane,

as remote as linnets in summer grass,

but always it surfaced in the rain.

 

Apples, cinnamon, freesia. Whitebait kissing

bubbles on the surface of the pool.

 

Musk, jasmine, sandalwood. Tortoiseshell wings

flowering from cotton crypts.

 

Citrus, rose, lavender. Gutters giggling

down water in the alleyway.

Always it surfaced in the rain.

 

The trace of the potion was the pocket of a raincoat,

a tissue rested between the dark spaces. Smells

swelling in hibernation.

 

I left our past in the tissue, left the tissue in the coat, left the coat in the cupboard.