Among the twenty lovers
of the Lady Captain, only one man
knew the wonder of an albatross.
At the second hole he saw the light,
paid off the caddie,
selected a nine iron and his favourite ball,
steered a clean shot through a gap in the wall
and followed it out onto the unmarked fairway
of the world.
Both our balls plugged
in that stodgy stuff
this side of the greenkeeper’s hut.
You see them:
the mad eyes
of the ghost of the man in the mud.
The flag and the green
from this elevation;
a heron in its pool
of stagnant water.
I was about to say something marvellous,
I stood and was bamboozled
by a line of badger prints
which stopped in their tracks
at the heart of the sand trap.
You sliced a tee shot
off the toe of the club. It pinballed
through the copse, came back
to within spitting distance of where we stood,
A blackbird burst out laughing.
To hole in one
or at last let go of your boy
on his new bike as he makes it
the length of the drive, down the hill,
along the carriageway,
between the weighbridge and the bottle bank -
just a dot now -
and through the gates of the big school without
Which fink blackballed the Captain’s brother?
Among the twenty snow-white members
of the selection committee, the Captain’s face
A three iron, two-hundred yards,
dead straight and a decent lie: one shot.
A sitter fluffed from two feet: one shot.
Not the fear of flying
but of falling.
Not the first ten-thousand feet
but the last one. Fatal.
An object lesson in addressing the ball:
head down, hands
where you’re happiest with them
putter firm but at ease,
legs apart and slightly broken
at the knees.
try it when you take a leak.
Sometimes in bed I replay
in that splendid round.
Some nights I dream
of badgers walking backwards.
To do with film and shutter speed.
Just nicely teed off, this unremarkable old-timer
in a blurred imperfect circle,
caught in the act of his own swing.
Uncanny. On the thirteenth
a blackbird rears up
like an umbrella.
Rain begins to happen.
Us roughnecks from the council estate,
out before breakfast
thieving magic mushrooms from the practice
lost balls to flog at competitive prices
and song thrush eggs from the rhododendrons.
From his hut,
over eighteen misty holes,
the greenkeeper turning a blind eye.
Like a fish
it grows with every telling.
Yesterday you stroked it home from twelve yards.
Today you winkle it from the bunker;
it bites and borrows to the left, anchors up,
rattles the pin and somehow wangles its way in.
I can’t say which is preferable:
the fat man in his motorised buggy
getting no traction in that stodgy stuff
this side of the greenkeeper’s hut,
or the lengthening shadow of the fat man
in his buggy, inching to the clubhouse
as he stays put.
The fairways deserted, the world’s
In the wood the wind is the sound
of the sea.
A ball in the cup is a pearl
for the taking.
On the back nine, one fathom now
from the surface.
Sundown, almost; the 19th
lit up like a petrol station.
Let’s live for the moment.
For the hell of it let’s tee one up
and belt it
into the nothingness.
A shooting star
agrees with us.
From The North No 8 (1990)