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extract from the poem Koi by John Burnside All afternoon we've wandered from the pool to alpine beds and roses ...
Sunday, 3 August 2008
A Tale for Today
Near where a boy had walked
who had been walking home,
who would never be seen again,
had been other boys, playing with knives.
That is, they said that playing had been the whole of it,
they told the police they had only been playing,
and even as they told the police it was play,
the boy was walking home who would disappear
somewhere between the edge of the wood
and that new monster hotel they are building - and all
while Miss Melissa was playing her violin. (Bliss
themes mostly, from Things to Come and the ghostly
Motifs composition of her own.) Much has been made
of Miss Melissa having played her violin
beside an open window - knowing, his parents now
maintain, that he would pass that way, and knowing
the very disturbing and unprecedented way
her Motifs acted on his fragile mind.
It has been established, almost beyond doubt,
that the boy did pass her open window,
that he passed it as he was walking home,
that he stopped to listen, as she had known he would,
and that he did all this just before he disappeared.
It has also been confirmed that the Mallows were arguing.
It is thought that the boy heard their angry voices
and was never heard of again.
From the Mallows' cottage you can see the sea,
and just where the sea is deepest blue
a tall ship taking part in a tall ships' sail-past,
had thrown its canvas to the wind. The boy, who loved the sea
and vessels of every sort, and had perhaps been making for
the jetty (just a small diversion from his journey home)
to get the best view going of the passing ships,
would not have seen its graceful lines - nor any others - glide
out from behind the headland like a dancer from the wings,
would not have seen its bows and curtsies to the tides and winds,
would not have seen it cast its shadow long on sea and dune
as if it cast a net, as if
the fading footprints of the boy
were small fry in its mesh; as if
a crumbling edge of sand was all the world could know
of one strange lad who'd loved its touch-and-see-ness,
then had vanished from it just a breath ago.
The Mallows could no doubt have vouched for what had passed: the boy,
supposing only that he had been found, could have said only that
before the schooner cleared the bluff
they'd watched him disappear for ever.
It might or might not be coincidence
the way they found the bird's egg smashed
beneath the large oak close to Sangster's copse,
and on a bough above the nest, the boy's cap snagged,
and on the smashed egg
two fresh sprigs of mallow - crossed.
Outside The Prince's Arms, not looking where he was going,
the boy was seen to trip and graze his knee.
An old man helped him to his feet. The man, not being
recognized by any locals, has been dismissed by them
as having been a tramp. The boy, thanking him
asked did he like his trainers - they were new.
The old man knew nothing about trainers,
but knew something about sad boys with knives
and earlier had seen the boys who had said they were playing,
throwing their knives at the hares in the Mallows' field -
the field which had the tree, the boy's cap snagged,
the smashed bird's egg and the sprigs of mallow.
The old man warned the boy to take great care
and said the boys with knives had all been smeared with blood
and had been laughing, even boasting of a stray dog they had killed,
some mangy old dog that had strayed their way.
The boy, while maintaining that he could perfectly
well fend for himself, promised to be careful,
then advised the old man to go
and listen at Miss Melissa's window,
to which the old man said he surely would -
and all of that ocurred soon after the boy had disappeared.
The police, who admit to being baffled by his multiple
meltings into thin air - and even more so by
their synchrony, have appealed for witnesses.
The missing link in the evidence, they think,
is being held, all unwittingly, by someone
who didn't see the boy at all that evening.