Rob At The Torriano
You struck me as the kind of awkward fellow
Who puts up all around himself a wall –
All through that first evening at the Torriano
You hardly spoke and wouldn’t read at all.
At first I liked you; then I wasn’t sure.
Just when I tried to speak you’d look away.
Not quite unfriendliness, it was more
The signal that cancels and will not say
What its intent is, doesn’t let you know
Its giver’s disposition nor morals neither,
Makes no declaration of being friend or foe
And just to be polite not worth the bother…
And then one Sunday night we had a drink;
I poured yours; you thanked me with a nod
And that was when I first began to think
That you were strangely noble, nobly odd:
While others jauntily made pitter patter
You were good at keeping your intelligence in check
Since all our nitter-natter really didn’t stir
The poet in you from non-verbal dialect.
You said you’d read if someone asked you to
And so I volunteered and called for “Robert!”
“Yes. Robert’s next…” and so you got the cue
And gradually became quite extrovert
Within our clique of poet-citizens:
Doers & dreamers, some with and some without a trade,
Who focused inwardly with self-inflicted lens
On Orphee-like vocations, vows secretly made.
Your sonnets were of love, a girl you’d known
Back in the eighties, still besotted by her:
You’d pushed on with technique and then grown
Out of it, swapped it out for something higher
So th’t rhymes and half rhymes alternated
Quatrains refigured, chiming back to front:
Your listeners thought the sonnet-form was dead
Until the winning couplet rich in understatement
Closed with your matter of fact enunciation
Which could’ve informed the Tannoy on a railway
And in its very flatness caught the imagination
With narrative as well as imagery.
You had a story which I liked and almost
Believed: that you, a tall homunculus,
A big and solid person, not a ghost,
Were yet an apparition living in the midst of us.
You said your home and origin had been a wall
From which you came, a fully functioning person,
And how you watched the pageant of us all
Pass by – seeming to get better, then begin to worsen.
One summer night you showed me where they stand –
The old wall letters over Kentish Town
Half faded out. They read: RTRELLISAND,
Your mortal coils, you say, the name and ground
That you can fade back into and emerge again
From. No one ever saw you do this of course
Except a gang of kids out in the rain
Who tricked you rotten with eggs and milk and source.