Acknowledged on our side town,
bragged of far from here, he’d been
our schoolfellow. He’d struggled in
all but the soft options.
He’d struggled in the stuff that’s meant
to get us somewhere: history,
French. But from the windows
we unbolted to hang out of
we would always see him racing
round the dust of the chalk oval,
with one who Swiss-timed seriously,
wanting the world warned.
I was among some eighteen
to shoulder him home gleaming,
his sweat like a belonging, skin
from somewhere new he came from,
and when he strolled out showered
in a suit that was a watchword,
we made notes like the nobodies
we grinned to see we were now,
now national talk was of him.
No snapshot really caught it.
I am among the few who saw him
up close and believe me.
He set himself what no one
had imagined and we bet him,
which teamed us with the watches, made us
sidekicks, I was kidding.
It teamed us with the ones who say
Impossible! Too far!
The ones who say The laws are laws,
alas! but hope they are.
It started when the gun cracked
You’re dead if he can do this.
Flashes went. We stood there,
officialdom. When it was wholly
evident he couldn’t do,
the lid came off the subject,
and the night relaxed its grip
for none ever thought it likely
and the fault was with him only.
To have sought fault in the world,
to have tested it. We left then,
ashamed to share his corner
though we took it in good humour
at other towns we work in.
We set him further leves
when we thought about him. Sometimes
you hear he smashed his record,
but he doesn’t make the freeze-frame,
is not among the seven
who relax across the line, or you will
hear he missed it narrowly
in drizzle out at Iffley
if you happen to be passing
through the business end of Oxford.
—Failing that a rustling
in what passes for a forest
when the clock is on the warpath
for a head-to-head in winter.