Pat Reid's last bow

by Dominic James

In the planning it looked like childish capers:
deep in our demon prince's lair, behind set-props,
four escapers: clutch of jack-in-the-box debonairs
wildly grinning, we lolled about in hotch-potch greys

and on the night, behind the curtain's threadless drapes,
a full house in the know already pondered our escape,
an inky trap, a secret gaping on another world,
our bridge from this Valhalla to an old familiar, fear.

So gingerly we entered, many hands grasped shadows,
bony ankles slipped in a throat of nails, snagged coats,
struggling: we descended as our gorges rose,
dew on lip and brow, the way a giddy road.

Though only trickling down: atoms in a rain gauge,
maggots on a fishing line suspended in free-fall,
push-me-pull-you molecules breaching coral cells -
castle chambers lodged in quiet, our breathing low.

Slip a lock. We tiptoe out. "Underneath the Arches"
jamming feet in shiny jackboots - difficult indeed -
past subalterns dumb dreaming-on La Vie Parisienne
to hear, with Flanagan & Allen overhead,

loud and clear, the sweet song of a woman's invitation
in the German tongue, almost unbearably warm
after dormitory years, the endless coal-tits puns:
we moused along, paused to let a waiter by then

outside. Roofless night spilt stars like drops of paint.
Wet cobbles underfoot. No looking back. On cue we had
a bluffer's chat of Hamburg and the Reeperbahn
that pleased the evening guard. Good night all. Encore. Good night.

Gates shut black behind us. Curtain fall. Latches slide.
A flat exhilaration, the moment of our new-born freedom
is doubt, relief. We rallied in a tide of fierceness
for the miles to come and off we set like children.

Judge's Comments - Peter Wyton