I can’t say that I saw the Tooth itself, 
but I did see the bedizened elephant that carried it — 
as important a performer, surely, as Chesterton’s donkey — 
and heard the clamour and trumpeting 
of the accompanying throng. 
Our balcony was high above the road 
along which the procession passed like a turbulent river 
bearing away an unseen holy relic, 
bearing elephants, bearing everything away.


Which cartoonist of genius 
first drew a pair of Xs 
to denote a drunkard’s eyes: 
a curious feature 
not to be observed in nature, 
but nonetheless clearly read? 
Kiss, site of buried treasure, 
illiterate’s painstaking signature, 
mysterious identity, sex, 
no in a questionnaire box: 
X may be the ur-letter, 
meaning whatever you want. 


You! Yes, you, small boy, 
small for your age and made to look smaller 
by the tennis racket you’re brandishing. 
Adult-size, stoutly-timbered,  
with its gluey gut strings gone frayed and slack, 
it strains and pains your immature wrist. 
Yet by degrees you are mastering the knack: 
whacking that bald, almost unbouncing ball 
again and again against a gable-end wall. 
One of the walls the war has left. 
You’re back in the black-and-white nineteen-fifties. 
You represent survival, pluck, and making-do. 
Returning a serve, you’re your own opponent, 
deliciously lost in the first excitement 
of muddling personal pronouns. 


Christopher Reid‘s most recent books of poems are A Scattering and The Song of Lunch (both 2009). The paperback of Letters of Ted Hughes, which he edited, was also published this year.