The Tarboosh


The tarboosh, she was saying, appears

not to evolve, and tapping the desk

with her pointer, she summons a slide,

which indeed figures all-but-identical

truncated cones tagged with disparate

dates while back of her podium

tall windows give onto a wide canal

where bareheaded boys call crudely

as our hold on Coptic hatwear accrues.

So it goes: the world is coevally

tamed and eludes. We are diligent

deploying our charming bastions of fact

but the street-cries intrude, refuse to be

marginal glosses, barge in on our act.



Elegy: Gone Tomorrow


A game-budgie hurtles out of the wood and tilts

preeningly, blazing like a seed-catalogue.

We know how this finishes: the skyflowers wilt

instantly to a clutch of rags fetched by a dog.


Who has not made some sacrifice for art,

or merely to keep their aspirations steady?

No-one I ever knew put more into the part

than you with your heels and your snap-crotch teddy,


an all-day bee-hat to protect your cheek

from stubbly rough-stuff intent to kiss you:

the very first gay cover-boy to deck

a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue!


That was the pinnacle, soon enough the slippage:

wit to sarcasm, cute chin to slack jowl,

sometime muscle pooled under the ribcage,

half your face on the bedtime face-towel . . .


Was it worth it, in hindsight, the price of the prize?

Sleep well, we remember you, and not without reason:

your ten-dollar-firework flare once hurt our eyes

- shot bird - spent rocket - prince for a season.



On the Tram


A litre carton of the worst white wine

from the corner store, neatly abandoned

by a ticket machine. What drunk would

have jibbed at bringing it aboard?

Perhaps the young hikers, trustingly

tippling from hand to hand, at last reckoned

it too disgusting to travel with.

Yet here's this exemplary daughter

of the bourgeoisie clutching a confection

in black pvc unimaginable

anyone could have the effrontery

to design. Should I loosen her embrace

and set her free, step down and place it

gingerly beside the wine?




Buccaneer or Poltroon

Eight-years-old, you itch to ambush the grown-ups

with your alarming command of Bonaparte's

away wins - you have, it's true, Waterloo sewn up,

but Marengo, and Austerlitz, and Ulm (with dates

and diagrams) are what make your thin blood boil

(Il Rabulione himself was clever but spoilt).

You took him to the Uni, knew at twenty-one

more than any man standing of the Directoire's

revolving ciphers, at last homing in on

Lazare Carnot - l'Architecte de la Victoire?,

'noticed' even in the Sundays, your future

mapped like The Retreat from Russia, plus allure.

Then why burn your gown and vanish thirty

years without word? Of course there were whispers: a boy,

a recalcitrant heiress, Krishnamurti

or cloister, a black hole on the Cam, a ploy,

(to what end?) . . . Rumoured Sightings was a game

played gleefully at dinners we held in your name.


Just as brusquely, you're back, with wife and grown sons,

deep beard and tan, a wry imprecision

re recent addresses, mum on your reasons

for migrance. You succumb without friction

to urban routines, cram four days a week, mow

the lawn on Sundays, wilt without sorrow.

Fast forward: it's the grandchildren keep you alive,

their amiable ignorance of the Corsican

more than made up for by the stagey high-fives,

candid vanities, allegiance to brands

you'd not think worth branding, an anthropology

engrossing as the Emperor's sexology.

What's to a life but the days that make it up?

What acquits us but curiosity? - fatal

to felines, who loll in your study and sup

from your leavings, sleekly keeping their counsel,

no wiser than you whether, one afternoon

in the seventies, you were buccaneer or poltroon.