A Boy Call
The long cry of ‘BOY …’, falsetto,
travels down two flights
and bursts like a blow to the head
through the last door on the left
where I am struggling with my essay
on the American Civil War.
My room is furthest away
from the Common Room. Only Barnes
is behind me in the scrum
of tailcoats and bumfreezers
jockeying for position in the corridor.
He takes hold of my tails
and whips me against the wall.
Church is standing on the stairs,
looking down at me. He’s wearing
the dark blue waistcoat
with silver stars, a clove carnation,
braided tailcoat and spongebag trousers.
He scribbles a note, twists it
into the customary knot
and chucks it down to me.
‘Take this to Howe in Chamiers.’
As soon as I am out of sight
I unfold the note and read,
‘What do you think of this one?
Get him to do the Charleston.’
The old upright shopping bicycle
has the wrong saddle, a racing one,
more like an iron bar than a saddle.
I perch on one side or the other,
carrier-bags swinging from the handlebars
full of provisions for the weekend.
It’s hard work pedalling uphill in the rain,
But after a while I don’t seem to mind.
Nothing seems to matter any more.
As if from long custom, I hand over
the groceries at the kitchen window,
take off my shoes and go upstairs to change.
As I draw the bedroom curtains I see you
hurrying down the path with an umbrella
on your way to fetch a salad for dinner.
Remember porters? Weatherbeaten old boys
with watery blue eyes, who found you a corner seat
‘facing the engine’ and stowed your luggage
in a net above your head? You gave them a coin,
worth almost nothing, even then,
and they touched their caps and thanked you
as they struggled out through the sliding doors
of the compartment into the corridor.
You used to worry vaguely
that they wouldn’t have time to get down.