Dusk taking over a court among conifers
though still discernible in thickening shadows
the ghostly tennis-ball and two boys in white flannels
whose dogged exchanges continuing voiceless
let the bored parents pacing back hand in hand
over the sweet-smelling layer of pine-needles
smile in collusion at that stubborn intention
to have done with the set before succumbing to darkness.
All four are dead now. War. Then sorrow. The net
sags as a frontier between tufts of ragweed.
Gossamer drifts where victor and loser
stood preparing to serve. Well below earshot
welcoming gunfire waited over the water
where the bone huntsman got ready to barter
a wad of black telegrams for broken athletes.
Upstairs in the shrine put up during mourning
tasselled caps hang fading by a vixen’s paw
dust-greyed now gummed to its wooden shield.
In blurred team-photographs beardless features
recede year by year from their side of the glass.
No-one flicks cobwebs from the prongs of antlers.
On one varnished oar nailed dry to the wall
a roll-call formed a triumphant ladder of gold.
The date has faded. Each bright initial is tarnished.
from A Puzzling Harvest: Collected Poems 1955-2000 (Anvil 2002), © Harry Guest 2002, used by permission of the author and the publisher