Man with a Double Bass on his Back
What kind of hump-backed, giant-mandibled creature is this
when the city’s locked in its mid-week mid-day business –
buses crammed in their bays, cars jamming the street,
pedestrians paused at the crossing, waiting for the green –
and here he comes, all tensile legs and fleet-of-foot intent,
this armour-plated coleoptera bent beneath his instrument?
He weaves his way among them as if he’s followed
a labyrinth of string and risen from the underworld,
rehearsing the captive beasts in his head. The subterranean
Mingus rumble of his bow driving to and fro. The Haden
pizzicatos plucked like hooves across the frets.
The Scott LaFaro melodies exhaling bestial breath
between the bridge and scroll. And lo, the thorax-swinging
jazz scarab is loose in the streets and no-one’s looking.
O dung-scavenger, o burdened, carapacial death-watch,
they avert their eyes at their peril when you’re at large.
Although the Woodlouse
is a creature of the dark and damp, another one crawls out
of some crevice to make its Marco Polo
progress across the flat-earth floorboards between
the hearth and rug towards … Does it even
know its destination, this glossy, hump-backed island
of insouciance? Out there, it’s no high-plains drifter,
alone on the timber highway and threatening menace
with each spur-clinking step. No Maoist proletarian
ant on a mission. No camouflaged stick-insect going
with the grain. It’s one on its own, out on its own.
It creeps out of hiding and makes itself at home. From a mite’s
eye view, it might appear an armour-plated
articulated war-machine enamoured of destruction,
its radar on red alert; or with bossed flanks,
head-down and snorting, some comic-book creature primed
for the charge. But lift a brick or log in the garden
to expose a nest of them, they’re all at odds, belly-up,
their fourteen legs and antennae twitching,
or curled into crusty pods, playing dead. And this one,
meanwhile, saunters along its route, pauses
to take the lie of the land and hopes to pass unseen,
leaving no trail, this anonymous isopod,
thick-skinned flâneur, dreaming of cosy composting retreats.
Up the Bluebirds!
for my father
Season on season, week on week,
your irrepressible optimism on the phone:
down the line I hear the chant
of the home crowd, see the pitch
where the ball arcs between boot and upright
or hangs in the wind over upturned heads.
And yes, I try to share that surge
of joy as the net bulges and you leap
from your seat, arms upthrust, to roar
for the goals that justify your lifelong fervour.
Week in week out, each word you speak –
the keeper’s saves, the striker’s misses,
the names of players I’ve never heard of,
the tactics, the ref’s outrageous decisions –
spins from your mouth like a string
of bright rosettes in some conjuring trick.
I listen, ask questions, enthuse.
Somewhere in a wardrobe in my house
a Bluebirds scarf, bought years ago outside
the ground, lies folded in the dark.