Part Three

But now not singles but flotillas;
They sure had heard of me.
What is it you travel in, Charlie, they say
It's 'Peerless Lingerie'?

So, Kate, I'm quite bowled over:
Fantastic derriere,
I wouldn't think, Hermione, you needed
One stitch of underwear.

70. Up and down the south coast, almost
Daily by the clock,
And Charlie afterwards is thanking them
With something out of stock.

Dozens, I cannot remember how many
Margarets and Sues,
Nor the many cars, woods, loos
Or changing rooms we'd use.

A vast unclothing industry
Was turning out for me
In what to other bods and hubbies was
One grand larceny.

You can hear the factory hooters
Drift across the sky
When Charlie and his van of Peerless Dreams
Goes toot and tootling by.

Hard breath and the held breath
Prefigure the long fall
Back to Methuselah no doubt and still
The family doctors call.

Yet even then when I'd left them on
Cold evenings, in the rain,
Still I saw inside the phosphorescing blur
Of outline on the pane.

Oh, many and many a morning
As I got into the car
And the engine hummed and was comforting I
Thought of cocktail bar.

When evenings late, with acrid smoke
Billowing through hair:
There was still the fresh, new-ironed shirt above
The well-used underwear.

That may be us and also not, who
Are as we become:
Not so much a handsome but unravelling from
That never failing sum.

So I said or tried to, standing
Old Tom a pint one day:
You're getting on, my son: what are you now -
Thirty? Doesn't stay.

80. Sure, you can hoof it with the swingers
But young chicks take their toll.
Which means most days we watch the telly, that's
Tom and current moll.

But something which we don't speak of
To women, some urgent hope
When they would say,
You know, Charlie, you're lucky:
The rest of us just cope.

Perhaps they did, for all I knew;
But looking on I saw
The great battalions of the world march by:
The church, the trades, the law.

What came was not immediate,
New girls in every port
Were just as gamesome, just as reckless but
Somehow not the sport.

What's happened then, my Charlie boy?
You didn't seem in touch.
Wasn't I, my blue-eyed darlin', but then
I like you just as much.

At times I did but continually
More stopped and stirred my drink
And for long hours on my own in cafes or bars
Moodily tried to think.

Choice is but chance and must be,
Life is a blind man's buff,
Who know what we are happy with or if
Which one is enough?

And then an odd thing, I must tell you:
I bought a book or two.
Action, spy books, cheap romances, things
To while the odd hour through.

And then more leisurely, I'd stop
In lay-bys and wouldn't drive.
And it was all there, the dreams, the fantasies,
Places brilliantly alive.

A whole new world was out there waiting,
I couldn't have enough,
But for two years I dropped near everything, yes,
Women, all that stuff.

90. Gave up motels and trucking places,
Slept out in the van,
On the road, in dry fields, small coppices:
Charlie the wayward man.

What a joke was 'Peerless Dreams:
Our Luxury For You'.
But still I used that tinkling tinker's tongue
In house and interview.

Yet now the recipients seemed different:
Kinder, another sort.
And more of them said : Find yourself a good girl,
Charlie, you must have thought.

And all came back: the scenes I loved,
Those books of Jack and Jill.
And what had happened to the child of then,
The hours he used to fill?

Charlie, I remembered, was
To scale the icy peaks
And traipsing across Sahara sands to be
Delirious for weeks.

Charlie then the dancer, a brilliant-
Sequined skating ace,
Spinning around him the applause would end as
Charlie slowed to place.

And Charlie the great detective,
Chicago's bureau chief.
Not mobster shoot-out or a moll could make
Him give up on his brief.

And so those lives in reading
Were looking for escape,
When all at once my immediate life took on
Another, clearer shape.

No clothes to pack, but take the boat-train out
As the flickering newsreels show.
With a smart companion as the carriage jolts
As whistle and signals go.

She's buttoned up and most becoming
In a little faux cloche hat,
Sat beside me, smiling, very charming as
Some well-bred pussy cat.

100. The train will stop and out we'll get
To dine in the best hotels:
Champagne and oysters, frosted caviar and
Bubbling muscatels.

And all the while, and with laboured puffs,
We climb the long incline:
The mountains rear, the forests darken, the waiters
Grow more saturnine.

Restocked, refreshed, the train will stop,
The porter doff his cap.
But he'll cross himself as he sees us off in that
Rickety horse and trap.

At last we shall come to the castle,
Half merged with forest gloom,
And a old wizened servant with long trailing candle
Will take us to our room.

There spread out and dallying,
Half swooning as to death,
We'll watch, in frost on the lancet glass, the
Long tracings of our breath.

Who can have enough of kisses
Sharp as new year's wine?
Who can be but the more giving with
Long murmurings be mine?

The clock can stop on an instant and
Its spinster tickings cease,
And stiff and impartial as hands moved round comes
Afterwards a peace.

Daylight is in the mirror and
The groom is neatly shaved.
Erect the bottles in their long battalions
Well stoppered and behaved.

In a moment by the doorway,
With ball gowns passing there
And two by two the couples pause and step
Down that winding stair.

From hour to hour there is no rest
From dancing in a throng,
When round we went, from breast to breast, each pair
Woven in the song.

110. And up and down until they drop
With hand in unringed hand:
The couples dance and turn and change about,
A stepping light, loose band.

And I was one, and one with her
With bow and curtsy paid
We waltzed, we turned; for all the partners met
A couple so we stayed.

For a moment I was thunderstruck
And then felt fall the tears
All that time to be living indifferently to
The whirligig of years.

At once they vanished: room and castle,
The dancing as we ought:
Mere phantoms of my make-belief, they all
Dwindled into thought.


part one     part two    part three    part four