Umpire, a local buffoon
An honest tackle trucks two junior footballers
tangled across the boundary line of the arena
before the barrier between hoi polloi and gladiators,
the tackler fouled again, the ball out of play,
an elbow stab to the ribs, a knee seeking a crotch
in this small town that yearns to be a contender,
the fair team fitter, faster, braver, ahead.
Clouds the colour of bruises, thuggery imminent,
the hyper whizz-bang electronic scoreboard sports
a score infuriating the home coach, Little Caesar.
A visitor queries if the umpire knows how to whistle,
prompting a memory of a Humphrey Bogart movie.
I hope our fair-haired lad knows how to survive
without net, trident, sword, my young Spartacus.
A guttural murmur growing, the home mob sniffs blood.
I sniff food, fatty, fast, selling furiously,
air still, floodlit smoke ghosting, storm gathering
as the fair boys brawl back, rules, skill, abandoned.
The melee an enraged kraken, our umpire freezes,
trump cards to send off unruly players unplayed.
Backlit by neon-blink, bodies rag-dolled, he cries, Stop it.
On the shelf now
Shelving books beneath the comfort of photographs
I come across a so-called Dirty Realist I loved,
Andre Dubus, who lost a leg, stopped on the road
to help a stranger in trouble, only to be taken out.
His stark title, We Don't Live Here Anymore
saddens me thinking on my old home I've left.
Protagonists did time in that tumbledown space.
Now their stories echo in this cottage room.
Glimpsed faces disappear, framed as in a train window,
characters who would be old now, living edgily,
doing their best, foundering hearts sore, battered,
spiralling bizarre events forcing them to their knees.
Rain throughout yesterday matched my mood,
this slippage, memory downsized, Voices from the Moon.
I retrieve a saturated letter from the mailbox
though my mail address is a PO Box.
The letter I shall dry out, a mystery, in my name,
had been sent earlier to an incorrect street number.
Dubus eventually died from losing that leg.
One thing leads to another, living your best to dying.
Bad knee howling, I'll never finish my shelving
wondering what this letter could turn out to be.
A video of Smooth comes with a surprise email.
Leaning forward my whiskers twitch seeing him
still chasing tail, me barely breathing, knowing
visits from sadness will linger, sweet but hard.
Once adventurers, nine lives now almost spent,
one a bird lover, the other a bird eater,
the final act in this survival game is separation.
My instinct is to daft-voice my old mate the hunter
now landed on his paws in a land of milk and fish,
reach out, scratch his vulnerable part near the heart,
then a shadow falls, the jumpy images end,
halt my fingertips from blurring the screen.
At breakfast his kin trump each other with dreams,
versions of life remixed, a whirligig batch,
lurid, zany, trite, jumbled, absurd; minds amok,
dreams of old and young a crazy match.
Daydreams are different, private, unshared.
They heard his nightmare, like a frightened child's,
from cards dealt before his life became moored.
Driven from the beach by squally weather
he wins at cards, loses at chess, razing the board,
headlong advancement, then nothing left to lose.
The camp joker, he says little about his wild youth.
The wishes in his heart. What they made him do.
His offspring and friends' lavish expectancy irks,
blissful privilege, birthright he never knew,
radiant Camelot skipping in merriment to the sea.
Back from salt-sprayed horseplay, he seeks respite
behind a droll mask for the private room of his mind.
Challenged at chess, he accepts with grace,
making the most of this chance to be kind,
old heart a pennant fluttering over a distant field.