The best thing that happened
to me (after they dumped me
from Boys’ Choir when my
voice broke) was being a scout,
learning to tie those knots—
the bowline, the sheepshank.
I read all Baden-Powell’s manuals:
how to pluck a fowl, gut a squirrel,
ignite a fire with dry twigs
& a magnifier. It gave a boy
a chance to swagger, badges
on his sash, knife in his belt.
I got promoted to squad leader
& I say this in earnest: I kept
my men together & on task.
Years later in our Saint Petersburg
suite, I watched the hundredth
anniversary on tv. The Stones
owe plenty to the Scouts. I stood
& gave the three-fingered salute:
“Beaver Patrol Leader Richards,
Seventh Dartford, Sir!”
SIDCUP ART SCHOOL
Flash sons of bitches
in bow ties, that’s what they
tried to turn us into: go forth
& advertise. At Sidcup I was
“Ricky.” No uniforms, no war
to get killed in, we smoked,
grew our hair long, studied
lithography, the light spectrum—
all thrown away on illustrating
Gilbey’s gin. I learned Cocaine
in the boys’ john. Wizz Jones
dropped by, looking like Jesus,
played South Carolina style,
his finger picking stolen
from the Reverend Gary
Davis in Harlem.
Jack is Satisfaction
in reverse, but if I had
to choose only one riff
to play again, I’d pick
It’s allllll right now…
I love that hallelujah,
like a chant in Arabic,
almost Gregorian, but
The lyric came at dawn,
the unrelenting Redlands
rain, a pair of spattered
Wellies at the cellar door,
Mick woken by the trudge
& shovel of Jack Dyer,
my Sussex gardener,
starting his day’s work.
Bert was a printer, a father
with a skill. They bought a tandem,
he & Mum, before the war.
I see them riding through air raids
with me in the baby seat, puking
from too much sun. Bert never
minded Jesus Christ, or said there
was no God. He saw a bloke in
a black frock & crossed the road,
that’s all. Sometimes we kicked
a football on the heath or worked
our garden plot. He knew the land,
“We’ve got to get these spuds in quick.”
I don’t say we were close but
don’t blame him. Bert was
a fucking working man.
In my fake leather notebook
I recognize the smudged names
of our gods: Chuck, Muddy, Diddley,
Reed. Five fuckups in a Chelsea
flat of dirty plates, we counted
Ernies everywhere we turned.
In every café, Ernies perused
menus. “Oh Christ,” we’d say,
“another fuckin’ Ernie,” only one
thing on his mind—earning
another shilling. Someday
they’d know us not as riffraff,
but blood brothers, lucky sons,
born at the midnight hour,
backdoor men, mojos
working, but not on them.
— by Hilary Sideris
Copyright ©2012, by Hilary Sideris. All Rights Reserved.
Hilary Sideris’s poems have recently appeared in Arts & Letters, Bayou, Confrontation, Grey Sparrow, PMS, Poet Lore, Quiddity, Southern Poetry Review, and Tar River Poetry. Her third chapbook, Gold & Other Fish, is available from Finishing Line Press. She lives in Brooklyn and works for The City University of New York.