He limps along on no blanched foot,
no dab of pitch to mar his looks
nor feverish rapacity,
no pimp, plays more the cool, card sharp
dealing out the negatives
from the bottom of his pack:
a bag of nails for everyone.
The copy of a man well-met
who first appears, to men in war,
a follower. A character
sometimes seen around the fire
he passes by, familiar
barely noticed at first sight –
or greets each man in his own tongue,
easy with the right inflection,
as though he took them all for fools
but men must parlay, as a rule
nights are long when fears enclose
the spine engrafted on to sleep.
He seldom is the first to speak.
Between the hiss and glow of fires
considered then, more than a spy
more one of their own company,
a stranger from on down the line.
Beside this timeless flickering
he casts about the counsel flames’
barbed shadows in the smoky air
of orange, in the bloody cold
has leave to pass without a word,
taken for another soldier
duty bound, left undisturbed
and proved no man to talk to.
The same lawn toys are still outside
for downstairs boy is now too ill;
the paper’s peeled away in strips,
the kettle: broken weeks ago.
Isolation is a bag of tricks
now Tallulah’s come, since when
my time is hers, and love
unwinds in increments.
At my sill, blue-painted poles
stand on guard in the gardens,
bounded by silent houses.
Season by season, they seem
to swell, press even harder-in.
No easy path this time of year,
on the empties weeds grow over.
The lift’s carriage doors run-to;
its ageing pulleys grind to start
iron gates slide shut, shut fast.
My fingers on the chair arm drum,
I am waiting on my final cue
and at the crucial moment, flag.
The stage was set months ago.
My heart hooked on the last
high note of Miles’s gallows horn,
time drags on his dying blast –
the wait has been too long.
A weary patience plays me out.
©2016 – Dominic James
‘The Follower’ and ‘Wednesday’s Child’ were commended and highly commended respectively in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (November 2015) judged by Oz Hardwick.