One Poem by Michael Caines

Written in response to this month’s Special Challenge.


 Towards the back of a makeshift orchestra, conducted
by a makeshift fool, I swipe
at the wrong notes,
of which
some sound nearly
tuneful, while the worst ones reach
the rear of the empty stalls, where no one is expected. . .

The mind drifts back, years back. All’s black and white. As usual,
I am struggling to tune
my instrument;
and you two,
just introduced,
are talking shop. (My cue. . .)
You nod in time. Your feelings – “like our friends!” – are mutual.

“I’m not – but sorry, you were saying –” “Only that
I didn’t know; my fault. . .”
“Oh no, it’s nothing –”
that eight-bar section. . .)
It’s getting embarrassing
for both of you. Rehearsals are about to start.

You laugh. A ribbon’s tied. (Now twelve bars’ rest. . .) I wrestle
with a wooden pig of a peg,
stretching a string.
A tilt
of the hat. (You can’t
conduct for toffee, you dolt. . .)
At last: a speaking silence falls. No words, don’t rustle –

just hear it out – a proposition that both of you
have been rehearsing since
you learned to gaze.
(That’s flat. . .)
Such dancing days
and nights in black and white
ought not to end. I play on for a company of two.


Michael Caines lives in London, and was longlisted for this year’s National Poetry Competition.

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