Rag and Bone Man’s Mild

after Baudelaire
Past the blue of the takeaway light grilling
flies for tea, where North Sea breezes roll in,
rattling the glass, out of some blind alley
where the tide of squalor rises daily,
comes, nodding his head, obscurely wise,
a rag and bone man, punching the walls as he goes,
flicking the law the finger on his patch
and holding forth to all from his royal coach.
Shouting the odds, he puts the world to rights,
gunning for wrong ‘uns but looking out for mates:
huge on the throne and slicing the sky in half,
What a top bloke I am, he tells himself.
Canny lads, dodging social services,
do his bidding, as charming as they’re vicious,
and chuck the fridges, tellies, bikes, on back,
all Bankside’s indiscriminate bric-a-brac,
and so wind home, merry and victorious,
hailing their way down back-street terraces.
Every last tattoo’s a campaign medal
for these veterans of old scrap metal,
with yards as rich as Ali Baba’s cave
awaiting them and a fry-up on the stove,
and then a night on the tear to music pounding,
the lasses game, the pub-crawls never-ending.
Lubricating this daft life of their,
singing his exploits through their drunken roars
but needing only froth before he’s cowned,
flows king mild, a rich brown river current,
the balm of idlers, stopping their mardy gobs
till chucking out time when they phone for cabs
to dump them home to sleep – but who needs sleep
when their mild to drink, dark and true and deep!

from Flowering Skullcap (Wurm Press, 2012), © David Wheatley 2012, used by permission of the author

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