High o’er the fence leaps Sonny Jim

Hugo Williams

Jim returns to his favourite Carnaby St boutique
circa 1966 and nods his shaggy head.
‘Hi, Barry! Hi, Stu! Got the new flares in yet?’
The two Goths behind the counter in Plastic Passion
have heard about people like Jim. One of them
looks out a pair of tangerine elephant loons
left over from his father’s ‘Chocolate Taxi’ scene
and throws them to Jim as a joke. The mildewed hipsters
have purple paisley inserts, patch pockets, studs
and novelty exterior fly-buttons with anchors.
Jim’s eyes shine to see the switched-on funky gear.
He lies down on his back to get into them.

It is Saturday afternoon, as usual in Jim’s life.
He wants to show off his new maxi-loons, 3-storey
snakeskin platforms and Mr Freedom T-shirt
with the half-peeled banana batiked on the front
to the in-crowd at the Chelsea Drugstore, demolished
in 1974. He dons his freaky leather hat and shades
and sets off down the King’s Road at a leisurely
mile a year, his flares trailing a year or two behind.
By the time they catch up with him, wrapping themselves
gradually round his spindly legs like sails,
the King’s Road is deserted. The street lamps don’t work.
Jim strikes a match. It looks like World’s End.

2. Jim’s Dance

Now Jim lives in squalor with his former wife,
or thinks he does. He never sees her any more,
unless she is furious, or pregnant,
and even then she uses her hand as a veil
when they pass one another in the hall.

Jim doesn’t mind. He thinks of these meetings
as the steps of a dance he’s learning,
where everyone closes their eyes for a moment
as they come forward to bow. He closes his eyes
and bows to her image on the stairs.

Jim’s wife is hardly more than a word of command
to him now, a shopping-list pinned to his overalls.
He looks for her in the matted corridor
and in the bar, knowing that if he catches her eye
it will be bad luck all day.

3. The Offence

According to Jim, it all began innocently enough
in a wood near the caravan site where the two boys
had been holidaying with their grandparents.
Jim was practising with a punchball
when out of the bushes rushed the two brothers
wearing warpaint and feathers and uttering cries.
They persuaded Jim to take part in a game
of Cowboys and Indians, warning him
that he would be scalped if they took him alive.
He was duly captured and tied to a tall tree
where we found him next morning, naked and weeping
and suffering from exposure. His head had been shaved,
his face and body smeared with lipstick.
After carrying out extensive enquiries in the area
we could find no trace of these brothers,
their holiday caravan, or the elderly couple
who might have been mistaken for their grandparents.
In the lonely spot described to us by Jim
we found only his tent, a simple Wigwam type,
in which he had been living alone for several weeks
on tins of tuna fish. Among the few items left
lying about, we found various articles of make-up,
a lipstick, a mirror, and a pair of hair-clippers.

4. Sonny Jim on Parade

If this is Jim, marching up and down
in his room, swinging his arms up and down
and drilling his men,
why do horse-hairs, curly-wurly things,
nothing like his own thoughts,
break free from the surrounding calm
and pop up like question-marks
on the ends of his commands?
‘Left wheel?’ ‘Right wheel?’ ‘Attention?’
Jim shakes his head from side to side,
as if to get rid of some irritating
chattering noise from the ranks.
‘By the front. Quick march!’
Jim takes the salute with his comb.

5. The Operation

Jim was lost. I found him in the old nursery
holding a candle to the mirror. ‘Look!’ he whispered.
‘Men with torches are driving something towards us
for the kill. Fetch my sixgun, Sonny. I’ll wait here.’
I told him there was nobody there but ourselves
and he put up a shaking hand to feel his head.
‘I’ve been tricked!’ he cried. ‘That’s not the face
of a young prince, it’s Father after his operation.
Is that why you’ve shaved off all his hair?’
‘Not at all, Your Majesty,’ I lied. ‘Your Majesty
wears his hair too long for the current fashion.
We want it to look just right for the Coronation.’
‘Who cares about the Coronation?’ snarled Jim.
‘When I’ve got nothing left on top. Where’s my razor?
Let’s see how YOU look with the latest hairstyle ...’
I had my finger on the bell, but he changed his mind
and smiled benignly round at his courtiers, the old
Mason and Pearson hairbrush upright in his hand.
‘I’m sixteen,’ he announced, preening imaginary locks.
‘Every day that doesn’t produce a new poem
is a day wasted for me. What do you think of this one?’

6. Bath Night

A nurse kneels on the floor of the bath house
pulling loose Jim’s protective underclothes.
‘Washing you,’ she murmurs,
touching the marks left by the laces.
‘Remember now. Washing you.’

Jim stands up very straight and tall,
his eyes screwed shut.
His toes grip the edge of the bath mat.
‘Washing you,’ he repeats after her.
‘Remember washing you.’

The nurse picks Jim up in her arms
and lets him slip out of the towel
into the disinfected water. His wasted legs
loom to the surface like slender birch trunks.
His feet stand up like pale stalks.

He wheels at anchor now, in his element,
and sometimes he floats free of the dry world
in that narrow white boat
that is going nowhere, wreathed in steam.
And sometimes he remembers her.

‘Washing you,’ he murmurs, as the green water
laps his body. ‘Remember washing you.’
His eyes are screwed shut.
His arms are folded across his chest
as if he is flying into himself.