The Reincarnation of Byron
The grit of the city alighting in eyeballs,
confounding the warden, the basher of Bibles,
the sergeant who mounts like a svelte caballero,
each one of them locked in the pose of the scarecrow,
he watches the moment of gritty-eyed stasis
from up in a scimitarred, stuffed-wolfed oasis.
The window frame tickles his nostrils, it’s wizened
and rasps like a wasp is behind it, imprisoned.
Light bulbs have blown. A rattling valve
beckons to him, so he smears on some salve,
then with a last swoosh of his grandmother’s claymore,
still thankful the dole queue allows him to play more
and thankful a desk will no longer inhibit
his freedom to act like a flibbertigibbet,
he throws some old velveteen over his shoulders
and throws himself down to the garage as bold as
an anvil, his sphincter as loud as a whipsaw,
and onto the seat of his second-hand rickshaw.
He glides beside aldermen, mayors and Rotarians,
councillors, all of them sexagenarians
clad, every one, in their brassy-knobbed gladrags,
all chasing their bouffants and gripping their handbags
with whitening-knuckled and veiny resolve,
with heads full of how much today they’ll devolve,
past sellers of every conceivable item,
past cheese graters, phone fascias ad infinitum,
past butchers with offal they’ll just let the cat have.
He knows where he is, so he won’t set the satnav.
There in the glow of the quick-dying day
is his goal, is his purpose, the Poets’ Café.
In a cellar that just dwarfs a cockerel’s coop,
there gathers a wine-sipping soft-spoken group
who welcome him onto the stage with applause
(it’s one of the café’s more transparent laws).
He seizes the mike like a seamstress’s hips
and now rhymes start to spin from his sulphurous lips
of a gentleman stopped in the Mexican sun
for smuggling pornography dressed as a nun
who said, “Sirs! The reason I’m so ineffectual
is I’ve got herpes. Don’t let me infect you all.
Damn the foul harlots who left me this symptom!
I had to limp after the scoundrel who pimped ‘em,
and God! How that cad had no honour or glory,
he told me this shaggy dog’s cock and bull story
of how he’d been chased by a two-headed liger
somewhere in Ukraine where the chimes of the Geiger
counter don’t pause, and of how he spent Christmas
with communists on an Arabian isthmus,
who slink out the desert to stir up some razzmatazz,
shifting through streets to find out what the kasbah has,”
all in the space of a Cornish ballade.
The crowd looks away with a blank disregard.
They mumble through cricket claps, “That was derivative”,
shake him away from themselves as though with a sieve.
Now an old poetess takes to the cockpit.
She opens her mouth so her tongue can unlock wit
and yes, here it shuffles in slow, rhymeless mumbles:
“Shuffle shuffle shuffle bag of thimbles
shuffle shuffle shuffle washing machine.”
The audience buzz and hurrah for this crone
and hands begin slotting like bits of a jigsaw,
bar one man who drags his club foot to a rickshaw.
From “Disoccidented” by Alfie Shoyger: