First there are the jokes
about how it’s going
on the ‘South Col’,
or the ‘Big C’;
but half serious,

as if you really had returned
from inching your way
up a vertical rockface,
or sailing single-handed
across his painted ocean.

Then I ask about them –
those friends of yours
I never meet, but you
are now so intimate with
you know the day-to-day state

of souls and bowels.
Is Asra still keeping Sam
on a string? Did he really
see her in bed with William?
How are dear Dorothy’s scarlet runners?

I suppose I’m jealous –
as a mountaineer’s wife
is jealous of mountains,
or a lone sailor’s
of the tug of the sea.

We sit in the Dawn of the Raj
after three days apart
sharing a Tandoori Mixed Grill,
discussing our passions
and our problems,

and you have that far away look
as if it’s all going on
in another room,
on another floor,
of another century.


The Army chap says –
to get the conversation flowing –
‘Women are more adapted to life
than men. They get less hurt.
They keep more of themselves back.’

His wife of thirty years,
a bony, brainy woman
with pale, frizzy curls and
baby-blue eyes, gently remonstrates.
The others join in –

chuckling, smoothing,
while trying to wrestle
with small tough parcels
that sit in red pools of sauce
on each blue-patterned plate.

In the end, the hostess
has to raid the kitchen drawer
for the sharpest knives
so her guests can dismember
the woodpigeons.

In her silver-beaded dress
she looks like the knife-thrower’s girl
at the circus – carvers
bunched in her hands
like dangerous flowers.

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