I descend on Holborn’s escalator
watching my wives pass by on the opposite side,
smiling, waving at me; they shout in Swedish,
Russian, Urdu, that they’ll always love me.
Even my English wives croon in their dialects.
My Japanese wives bow low, their kimonos
showering the stairs with the scents
of Hokkaido and Kanto. My wives are everywhere;
pacing the corridors, rushing to Kilburn,
Gatwick, Paddington, staring at me as they go.
They have new husbands now, waiting at home,
but I know they miss me. As we tunnel the grim
postcodes of Lambeth, Borough,
the Elephant and Castle, most of my wives have left
to catch connections for Kent or Sussex.
There are just the two of us now,
husband and wife for a couple of stops.
We sit in our seats, rocking in unison.
She fondles her wedding ring, then starts
to weep. What can I do, but join her?
We sob through Waterloo and Kennington,
all the way to Stockwell where she picks up
her bag, and slips through the doors.
I can picture her room in the Walworth Road,
her joss sticks smouldering, that smell
of patchouli she’s left in the empty carriage.
I go home alone, lie in an empty bed
while all my wives are sleeping with men
who do not love them.
The Late Show
We’re deep into drinking time when Beardsley
starts the late show with a nutmeg, turns,
skins a defender – leaves him flat on his arse,
then swings the ball through a lens-blur
of emerald, where eight thousand zebras
are grazing in the Leazer’s End; they rise
in their seats, Ferdinand hangs in the air,
like Jesus beginning his slow ascension
to heaven, where the ball meets him, sweetly,
square between the temples. We’re up
on our feet, screaming, watching the slow-mo’s
pristine analysis over and over, the grace
of the movements, the undeniable beauty.
The keeper is nowhere – picking the ball from his net.
We stare at the box, you can smell the rain
deep in its circuitry, a whiff of the Tyne
from three hundred miles away.
The noise sweeps over us – the Toon Army,
the Magpies, the ranks of demented choristers
singing for their suppers. It’s dark already
in Newcastle; here, as the whistle goes
the last of the sun flares up in the bottles
behind the bar; it’s warm, we sit with our beers
by open windows, running it through in our heads:
Shaka, Howey, Howey to Ginola, a shimmy, then crack –
the ball on its holiday, forty yards, the shine
of rain in the air; Beardsley starting the late show
with a nutmeg, skinning a full-back, Ferdinand
up on his ladders. You can hear the smack
of leather on head, the grey blur of the ball
punching the net, the goalie flat on his back,
and still there’s a touch of sunlight gilding
the high windows of Marylebone.
Send Letters To:
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN
Please include name, address, and a telephone number.