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Sack ArtistClive James
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Vol. 7 No. 13 · 18 July 1985
Poem

Sack Artist

Clive James

804 words

Reeling between the redhead and the blonde
Don Juan caught the eye of the brunette.
He had no special mission like James Bond.
He didn’t play the lute or read Le Monde.
Why was it he on whom their sights were set?

For let’s make no mistake, the women pick
Which men go down in history as avid
Tail-chasers with the enviable trick
Of barely needing to chat up the chick –
From Warren Beatty back to ruddy David.

But why the broads latch on to the one bloke
Remains what it has always been, a riddle.
Byron though famous was both fat and broke
While Casanova was a standing joke,
His wig awry, forever on the fiddle.

Mozart made Juan warble but so what?
In Don Giovanni everybody sings.
The show would fall flat if the star did not
And clearly he’s not meant to sound so hot:
His women praise him, but for other things.

They trill of his indifference and disdain
But might have liked his loyalty still more.
We can’t, from how they lyrically complain,
Conclude that when he left they liked the pain
As much as they enjoyed the bliss before.

Bad treatment doesn’t do it: not from him,
Still less from us, who find out when we try it
That far from looking tickled they turn grim,
Leaving us at a loss out on a limb,
Instructed to obtain a kite and fly it.

Which doesn’t make the chap of whom we speak
Some gigolo devoted to their pleasure.
The fancy man turns no strong woman weak
But merely pumps out what was up the creek.
Plundering hulks he lays up little treasure.

Good looks don’t hurt but rate low on their own.
The teenage girls who fall for Richard Gere
Admit his face is random flesh and bone
Beside Mel Gibson’s, that his skin lacks tone
And when he smiles his pin eyes disappear.

They go bananas when he bares his chest
But torsos that outstrip his leave them cold.
One bit of you might well be the world’s best
But women won’t take that and leave the rest:
The man entire is what they would enfold.

The phallus fallacy thus shows its roots
Afloat in the pornographer’s wet dream
By which a synechdochal puss in boots
Strides forward frantic to be in cahoots
With his shy mote grown into a great beam.

A shame to be without the wherewithal
But all the wherewith you might have down there
Won’t get the ladies queuing in the hall –
Not if you let it loose at a masked ball,
Not if you advertise it on the air.

None of which means that lust takes a back seat.
Contrariwise, it is the main event.
The grandest grandes dames cease to be discreet.
Their souls shine through their bodies with the heat.
They dream of more to come as they lie spent.

The sort of women who don’t do such things
Do them for him, wherein might lie the clue.
The smell of transcendental sanction clings
Like injured ozone to angelic wings –
An envoy, and he’s only passing through.

In triumph’s moment he must hit the trail.
However warm the welcome, he can’t stay.
Lest those fine fingers read his back like braille
He has to pull out early without fail –
Preserve his mystery with a getaway.

He is the perfect stranger. Humbler grades
Of female don’t get even a brief taste –
With Errol Flynn fenced in by flashing blades
And Steve McQueen in aviator shades
It always was a dream that they embraced.

Sheer fantasy makes drama from the drab,
Sweet reverie a slow blues from the bleak:
How Cary Grant would not pick up the tab,
Omar Sharif sent roses in a cab,
Those little lumps in Robert Redford’s cheek.

Where Don’s concerned the first glance is enough:
For certain he takes soon what we might late.
The rest of us may talk seductive guff
Unendingly and not come up to snuff,
Whereat we most obscenely fulminate.

We say of her that she can’t pass a prick.
We call him cunt-struck, stick-man, power tool,
Muff-diver, stud, sack artist, motor dick,
Getting his end away, dipping his wick,
A stoat, a goat, a freak, a fucking fool.

So we stand mesmerised by our own fuss,
Aware that any woman, heaped with grief,
Will give herself to him instead of us
Because there is so little to discuss –
And cry perfido mostro! in relief.

Her true desires at long last understood,
She ponders, as she holds him locked above her,
The living definition of the good –
Her blind faith in mankind and womanhood
Restored by the dumb smile of the great lover.

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