"First World War Hero": a new poem by Dannie Abse

Often away on business though no-one
seemed to know what Uncle’s business was.
He’d return from Timbuktu, North Pole or Mars,
cigar-smoking, proud of his new bought Bentley.

Not always a Bentley. Sometimes a cavalier Rolls
or some other post-war car made in Heaven.
“Sam juggles cars like he juggles lemons,”
Dad grumbled. We owned an Austin 7.

Once, with three lemons, Uncle entranced me.
He danced over watchful one-eyed daisies
juggling a choreograph of lemons. Funny, freckled
red-haired Uncle. Such beauty of balance!

He could do it with whisky wizardry,
kneeling on the floor, singing a Fred Astaire song
but Mother disapproved of war-hero Sam.
“Generous with other people’s money. Scab. Cheat.”

“Not a cheat,” Dad frowned. “A juggler, yes,
a meshugana charmer and chancer, yes. Always
was, always will be till his name’s on the slab
he’ll throw up Sour till it comes down Sweet.”

No exemplar, but misled, I was in awe of Sam.
They said at Ypres he had killed ten Huns.
Asked about his medals he fled into silence,
then winked, “They gave me them for juggling lemons.”

That was whisky-glib years ago. Now no more
cars, leaping lemons. At Sam’s funeral, drama:
Aunt numb and an unknown woman weeping
comforted by a freckled, red-haired son.

In the trance of Belief there are spaced-out gurus,
wild messiahs, and can-do men like Sam,
tight-rope stars, in god-fearless equipoise,
they speak to a child and to the child in man.

Dannie Abse is a poet and a former doctor. His most recent book is Speak, Old Parrot (Hutchinson, £15). He is the president of the Welsh Academy of Letters and was awarded a CBE in 2012.

This article first appeared in the 06 August 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Inside Gaza

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“Driving Through the Pit Town”: a poem by Rory Waterman

Then – surprise – a pale sun picks at a slit / in the paper sky.”

There’s not much round here now, you say,
just huddled brick or pebbledash terraces,
and tiny new-builds where the pitheads were
.

Bare hills fly up beyond the town you left,
with clasps of scree, caps of sodden green,
pitched above the neat slate pitches

but your eyes stay on the road. The side streets jut
left and right, so many of them, like ribs.
You jab a finger: We lived up top of that one.

Then – surprise – a pale sun picks at a slit
in the paper sky. Yellow slaps down
momently, and slides along the valley,

and the half-a-pit-wheel trenched in the roundabout
shimmers, red as gut. We won’t stop here
and most of the shops (Kebabland, USA Nail’s,

Milan Fashions) are shut or boarded anyway.
The four lads pincering fags outside the Co-op,
gobbing and shoving, repulse for what they are.

It’s no use knowing better, more, you say.
And in blue spray paint, the back of the village sign
cries “DING DONG!!”. Like we’re waiting at a door.

 

Rory Waterman lives in Nottingham. His debut collection, Tonight the Summer’s Over, is a PBS Recommendation and was shortlisted for the Seamus Heaney Prize.

This article first appeared in the 28 April 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The new fascism