Un poème, un pays


Phoebe and the troopship

Spread across cushions on her yacht,
Phoebe, engrossed, does not
Observe the vulture on the wire, the boys that trot
Behind a limping, bony cow,
The fisherman drifting in his dhow,
Or the rocky field with an abandoned Soviet plough.
Attention puckers up her nose
As she paints the last two toes
Revlon cherry red, leans to them and softly blows,
And then reclines, her business done,
Under the Egyptian sun;
Across her bikini suit blood-red cherries run.
Half-asleep, in her imaginings,
She summons movie stars and kings,
Furs, photographers, limousines and emerald rings —
Meanwhile, on a northern tide,
Comes the troopship Empire Pride,
With a thousand Tommies on the starboard side.
A shadow falls on Phoebe’s bed,
And a throbbing starts to spread
Through the cushions, up her legs, into her head;
The great propeller slows
As they pass the English rose
Pink and white, with cherries on her breasts and toes.
They cheer, they whistle and salute,
As she stands in her bikini suit,
And bows — a thousand minds that night see falling fruit.
Now, tiny in her wingback chair,
She searches helpless in the air,
‘Dear One … remember, all those boys, and me … now where…?’
‘Suez,’ I prompt her, ‘on a yacht.’
‘Yes, yes,’ she grins, ‘the boys, that yacht.’
The rest — two husbands, career, a life — quite forgot.