Bullies and Blokes
Our Latin master, fifty years ago.
His sarcasms were like the edge
of a blade of grass, stinging so much
when drawn across a tenderness.
The football chairman of that time,
scorning the softies, fairy boys,
playing to baying public praise,
the adulation of the toadies.
I've seen both in their nursing homes
and was amazed to see them shrinking,
back into a cornered bitterness,
where no-one came to play the victim
and breezy nurses bustled through.
Now Wittsy, Tosser, Jinksy. Blokes various,
had jobs, did things, now picking up the part
of local good old boys. Standing
in a March sun by the Shop on the Green,
hooting mirth. An inventory would show
arthritic joints, the odd bits here and there
not working as they should. But they share
a pleasure in the sun, the day, the Green,
the coming of another, yet another spring.
We recalled him well, big strong right back,
playing in local teams, on local pitches,
tall solid lad, hard in the tackle and defense,
not a dirty player, let's just say resolute.
It was odd to hear he later became a priest.
We thought back. Yes, he was hard but fair,
maybe tackling just a shade too heavily
at times. Maybe, running beside a winger,
he'd nudge his hip across. He never argued,
never challenged refs. As we said, hard but fair.
A further decade later, we learned that he
was now a missionary. When he called once,
he told the barber of the African territory,
of building hospitals, of staffing schools,
of work with pain and poverty and loss.
We'd thought our fields, our local pitches,
a kind of permanence. An enclave, a retreat.
But I can see him still, strong into the tackle,
coming away with the ball, booting upfield,
down with touchline, deep into opponents' half.
Robert Nisbet is a Welch poet who lives about 30 miles along the coast from Dylan Thomas's Boathouse. He has published widely in Britain and the USA.
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