John Saul

/ /

What mishap hounds you with a haggard fear?
What devil cramps you on this crooked bench
to slump & stare & wait for me? Don’t clench
your face like I’m a lemon-wedge — I meant
no harm! Now, offer me a drag or steer
that dwindling bottle to my hands. A hint?

Well, you’re possessive or possessed. I’ve brought
my own — don’t fuss about the silver. Just
a gift from someone miles above our crust.
No names, relations, best you never know.
Turn away! I sense what envy rots
a cavity between your eyes. Don’t throw

the cigarette aside, let’s have this sweet,
dismal moment with your breath on mine,
a perch of Furies & all the rest behind.
There’s my handsome blade… Were you hurt?
Or did he pay to frisk you with his teeth?
It will not scar, I think. What was it worth?

Why would you risk that milk & marble bust —
the jawline of a python but the brow
of cold Apollo’s chiseled thigh? Hell, how
could you have risked that demitasse design
when your John’s a brute? No time to blush,
my boy, up now, I cannot be your spine!

You learn to run in a world that’s keen to prowl,
or starve by twenty with a ragged hide.
Now, that’s a bandage for your nibbled pride…
Send the wolves to me, I’ve handled worse,
I know the sport of homini lupus, growl
to feed the kennel of my sons. Why curse

Nature, yellowed in her patient grin,
the blackened ends of restless, bastard things,
patterns, warping ways, the grubby wings
of pigeons poised in carriage shit? Why curse
the City wheezing over roasted men,
the swollen Kingdom spilling from its hearse…?

The Styx hugs heavy on the street tonight —
I’ll cough myself into a hospital
before the starlight weasels through! Quick, pull
your collar up, strangler that it is, guard
your shilling lips or else the soot will bite
down deeper than your John. It will not scar,

my pretty blade! A surgeon learns to sew
from patchwork not from books. I’ve had a prick
or two. I know from bandages, from bricks
of piss-drunk alleys fanged with broken glass;
know when to choke the hemorrhage, when to blow
the candle out & let the living pass —

I understand the cut of will & won’t!
So, no more doubts. Life will trace her lectures
on your vagrant pelt until it purrs
with certainties & everywhere you strut’s
a seminar. For now, you’re clipped & coned,
illegible, a kitten or a mutt,

wet whelps without a gentle denouement.
I’ve seen them writhing fleetward in the rain,
busking for sailors or tourists from the Seine,
a toss for officers & a shuck for snails;
delicious in rejection, fed but gaunt,
a powdered stack of Adams, tucking tails

between the patches of their ratty silks,
the charity of common graves! Morbid,
I know, but see one every week: the kid
who burns a penny for a pint then flags
the corner like a matchstick girl to bilk
& bother for his greasy share. The hags!

Save a little, spit or spat, & buy
some proper kit. No sense in surrogates
of dowdy siblings or chintzy majorettes
& certainly no pay. And get a wig,
you gob of Spartans, with autumn waves that glide
between the clumsy knuckles of a prig —

you let a vicar scalp you even once,
you’ll wear the bruises of Leviticus,
& not a grain of powder or of blush
can smooth it out again! It’s not the fist
that breaks you, darling, it’s the hound of months
trapped staring over shoulders where the mist

revolves with blind conspiracies, thugs,
fractures, felonies… You’ll take a piss
but never take a note. By Christ, you’ll miss
me when the angel comes to snap my neck
between her crystal fingers, looking smug
like she’s the better dressed! Oh, go on, check

the panes at Minster bragging like a cock
at dawn & be the judge: pearled penitence
or the blackened blood of Gallic lace with hints
of ermine pawing at the collar… Child,
I know it’s fake! Illusion is our stock
& trade: most men would rather walk the wild

or thumb the gritty gaps of hodge & podge
than snatch the nearest Helen from his books.
Refreshing when a worm seeks out its hook.
Spares embarrassment & spares your throat
for an encore if he pays. You’d rather dodge
around the matter? Fine. Prepare a coat

of trifled honey for that wound then beg
the vermin not to pick you dry. Or bleed.
Shame has a sugar, an allure that feeds
a sadist like a corpse feeds flies. He slips
inside you, crudely propping up your legs,
then fucks until the foam obscures his lips,

indifferent to your terms, mechanical,
then brands you with his wheezing teeth. You’ll beg,
I know it: begging’s for the medias res
but prayer’s for the offing. Besides, what god
could ever pluck you from these manacles,
you fashioned them yourself! Was that a sob?

Ah, hell, I only meant to jar the reins…
You’re safe now, pretty blade. It will not scar.
Take this. Next one who cavaliers too far,
withdraw it from your blossomed hair & stab
like sacred Judith in the softest place
your nimble hands can find. Avoid the flab,

that only pricks his rage. A joint or an eye
will turn your sharp rejection into lore:
Selina, Compton’s Fang, Our Lady Thorn.
I’ll pour such pretty venom for the lads
their ears will drip with consequence. You sigh,
but soon enough you’ll ride on Galahads

or Sapphics if the appetites prevail.
Allow me, please. I know the proper style.
I’ll make that braid a weapon… Won’t you smile?
And turn your hair to catch the summer moon,
I’m not a jeweler! I’d rather not impale
you, squinting over fakes. I’ll have it soon.

You need me & I understand. The flaw
of youth is thinking all these cracks account
for cutting wisdom when a stoic ounce
of glue is what you need. I’m here to croon
or cavil, kiss the sting of sera-sera’s,
or share a fag or two… I’ll have it soon

enough! This wig’s a keeper, not a trace
of horse about it, almost cinnamon.
There you are! No. Thank Miss Eveline.
I’m only Saul to chalky barristers
& cops. Tonight, I am your Liege in Lace.
Tonight, my darling, hell for heels, I’m her.