Unreal

By Mark Ford b. 1962 Mark Ford
                                        . . . I drank and was surprised
to see what looked like tea leaves
at the bottom
of the cup . . . minutes
later a great warm green wave
or cloud
began advancing towards me. “Look at the boats
on his shirt,” I felt myself trying
to say, in Spanish, or Moroccan, yet knowing
I knew
none of the words . . .  

                                         it was bright
morning, and the train had arrived
and emptied
at Chamartín before I finally
pried open my eyes, and saw
on the carriage floor
nothing but an unfamiliar
pair of trainers: cracked
white leather, with three green stripes. “Mister — 
or rather Herr — Adolf
Dassler made these,” I thought. But which
of the two friendly men with whom
I’d shared the carriage, and some wine,
had been wearing them? I pondered
this awhile, then fell
asleep again . . .

                              and did
Herr Dassler visit, personally, all the cities inscribed
on his trainers? Koln, Dublin, Paris, Montreal,
Kopenhagen, Bern, Amsterdam . . . and fit
the trainer to the city? Rom, like these, Vienna,
London . . .    

                    Señor Dassler, I am dreaming of you
on a bench on a platform in a train station
in Madrid, unable
to wake up, a pair
of your trainers, that weren’t mine, but now are,
on my feet . . .    

                           I am swimming, Herr
Dassler, in your wake, though I fear
you are dead, a corpse washed clean by the numbing tides
with three slanting stripes emblazoned
on your chest, your passport and your wallet
drifting to the ocean floor . . .    

                                                      I discovered
in a pocket — oh! the kindness
of strangers! — about
forty pesetas; but casting
around for a joke or silver lining, I found
nada — or niente, as I put it
to my shoes . . . closing
my eyes, I imagined fingers untying
and easing off my Reeboks, as the train
hurtled through the darkness, the men trying
them on in turn, the ex-owner of these
flexing his toes, padding up and down, nodding
approval. They must have whispered
like parents, as they lifted my shirt and unfastened
my money belt, or perhaps, more like surgeons, they used
scissors, or a knife . . .    

                                         snicker-snack! I watched
the vorpal blade trace
arabesques across my breastbone, hover, then slide
between two ribs. Chug-chug
went the trains. The heat
was building, the potion
at last wearing off. How light
I’d be, I now
began to reason, as quick and canny
as a lizard, a perfectly camouflaged
lizard, who’d shed a skin and acquired a new
way of walking.

Source: Poetry (January 2014).

MORE FROM THIS ISSUE

This poem originally appeared in the January 2014 issue of Poetry magazine

January 2014
 Mark  Ford

Biography

Mark Ford was born in Nairobi, Kenya, and earned both his BA and DPhil from the University of Oxford. His collections of poetry include Landlocked (1991), Soft Sift (2001), Six Children (2011), and Selected Poems (2014). He is the author of a biography, Raymond Roussel and the Republic of Dreams (2000), and a parallel text translation of Roussel’s last poem, Nouvelles Impressions d’Afrique (New Impressions of Africa) (2011), . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poems by Mark Ford

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, The Mind, Activities, Travels & Journeys, Social Commentaries, Crime & Punishment

POET’S REGION England

Poetic Terms Free Verse

Report a problem with this poem


Your results will be limited to content that appeared in Poetry magazine.

Search Every Issue of Poetry

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.