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An Englishman AbroadAugust Kleinzahler
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Vol. 23 No. 21 · 1 November 2001
Poem

An Englishman Abroad

August Kleinzahler

472 words

For Christopher Logue

The talk-radio host is trying to shake the wacko
with only a minute left
to get in the finance and boner-pill spots
before signing off,
the morning news team already at the door
and dairy vans streaming
from the gates of WholesomeBest, fanning out
across the vast plateau.
Fair skies, high cumulus cloud –
the birds are in full throat as dawn ignites
in the east, rinsing the heavens with a coral pink.

What power and wealth,
the foreign visitor reflects from his bed
in the quaint, old west hotel,
two military jets thundering by overhead.
He takes in the embroidered homilies on the walls,
the highboy and phony Windsor chairs,
and begins to smell the coffee and bacon
frying down the stairs. He is not at all ready
to say goodbye
to this resourceful, generous, open-faced tribe
with its matchless plumbing and inexhaustible vistas.

To the west, prevailing winds
deposit a vapour of phenols, benzene, sulphides
across the grasslands, choking back
the cinquefoil and flowering tansy,
slowly dismantling the proteins in the curlew’s bill.
He remembers the pretty blonde attendant
at the laundrette, her shy but persistent
queries about his accent and native Portsmouth,
and that lingering smile.
Angel food cake black camisole
Voucheron spike heels:
revery, tumescence, gladness – when just then

the clock radio comes on
with its farm report followed by an ancient Procul Harum tune
that takes him uncomfortably back, way back
to a calamitous party in Shepherd’s Bush.
What a hateful dismal shitty little village
London really is.
Should he have pursued her? In earnest?
She seemed keen enough at the time
but these amorous gambits of late
have one after another come a cropper.
One tires of being made to feel the fool.

They gave him everything, these good people.
A magnificent stage, first-rate lighting
and packed houses every night.
They’d have wept real tears in the West End to see it.
And here, in the middle of fucking nowhere.
Just look at the colour of those clouds.
Rosy-fingered dawn, my arse.
This show’s in Technicolor.
The telephone. Must be his minder.
Yes, yes, I’ll be ready downstairs at eight.
Excellent girl. I should remember
to send her a little something when I get back.
Toffee or some silly English thing or other.

They can’t get enough of all that, poor dears.
What was that joke the department Chair told?
No matter. A most amusing chap.
You don’t suppose it will be another of those
awful little commuter props?
I’ll be shattered by the time I get to Denver,
much less Heathrow.
What was that darling girl’s name?
Jeanie. Janie. Joanie. Jeanine. Jeanette.
Yes, that was it. Lovely creature.
Why do I scruple so?
It’s an affliction, that’s what it is.
Bloody hell …

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