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In the ring with Stevens and Hemingway

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Peter Gebhardt |  29 February 2016

 
 

Wallace Stevens and Ernest Hemingway meet the Marquis of Queensberry at Key West in 1936
 
The old hoar has come in from the sea,
While the Insurance man is fingerly sipping tea.
 
           Poor old Oscar
Learned the rules of boxing,
           And so must we.
 
The teacher was called Kid Young,
Might have been a tent man
       For all I know.
No one I knew had a name like that.
We went into his rope-squared ring,
To be learning to look after yourself was the real thing.
 
Rounds and counts, jabs and feints
       Glass jaws and upper-cuts,
   Southpaws and the rest.
       It was a new word-world.
   Yet more colonial drill
       And blood should spill.
 
Meanwhile there was order by the key,
       Water was washing,
   Banter and barter in brief bargain,
               Then
a jab to the jaw,
                       fishbone cry,
a hand cracks,
                       skinless words.
 
Suddenly it's all so clear
       like the glove's leather thwack
You had to learn boxing
           to watch boxing
Because it was good for you,
           just as grandmother's
Castor oil was.
           It's all stomach boy.
 
 
 
In praise of sheep
(Lambs' fry and bacon)
 
In the morning you can see them huddled under the trees,
Mist nosing the new air.
There are many who think that sheep
Are foolish, stupid, brainless,
As they leap hurdles that are not there,
Butt and buffet airy nothing
As they skip and shuffle, bleat and snuffle,
Drop dung without discretion.
 
I think sheep are underrated,
And when I can taste the offal feast
Of kidneys, brains and liver —
Tripe fails my digestive tract
The one-legged chef at school saw to that —
 
And when I know that my jacket is pure wool,
I can never be the fool
That thinks sheep are silly beasts.
 
Sacrificial lambs have more than paid their dues,
And may god forever nourish the flock with rams and ewes.
 
 
 
Fifty-second wedding anniversary in the emergency department of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham
 
Occasions conspire, words perspire,
There is so much to say to fill the day
Birthdays, anniversaries and a reigning monarch's records-fray.
 
Of course, soon the corgis will be whooping and skipping
Celebrating Mummy's day of many days
Days beyond the statuesque shape of Victoria's longing.
 
Playtime in the Palace yard, knuckle-bones,
Meaty-bites and gold-plated scraps,
The banquets always are burnished with imperial tastes.
 
Gloria Lilibet! Lilibet vivat!
 
We sat in the waiting room waiting and waiting
All around the burden of Saturday night,
Limping footballers, the altered jaws, and more.
 
It was a polyglot parade of colour
'Have you ever been here, m'am?'
Silks and shawls and scarves and bare-foot odour.
 
And then the door opens
The cabins of casualty are filled
And the nuance of nursing chatter rises.
 
Poverty hasn't time for anniversaries
It just struggles to hold hands in hope.
 
'Have you ever been here m'am?'
Riding side-saddle is only half the story.
'And don't cross your legs in hospital,' Jason says,
 
So you and me must face the future,
But I wouldn't suggest the starch enriched sandwich
Wrapped in iced plastic, or the English tea in a paper cup.

 


Peter GebhardtPeter Gebhardt is a retired school principal and judge. His most recent book is Black and White Onyx: New and Selected Poems 1988–2011.

 



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Three magic poems. A wonderful start to my day, thanks.

Peter Goers 01 March 2016

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