Not the new racquets themselves, strung
To the pitch of drums in that wiry meshed black
Of loudspeakers. Not the crammed tube of feathers.
They are a daughterly indulgence, gear
To stir the sluggish pumps and muscles of our fifties,
Mythical as the breath they need, and tan knees.
Not these, which seem a flattering novelty,
But a letter found later in a dusty trunk
Brings to mind all that I know of this game.
Brings it back across a half century
In a cautious upper case and licked pencil
That once imagined Blackpool for Nairobi.
The signifiers are elementary. I HAVE
GOT A CUCLSHOC. I CAN HIT IT
5 TIMS. What else do I remember?
The cistern drip and chill of an attic Christmas.
The layered curves of the frames, strained maroon
Like spills, and trussed with yellow woven gut.
And the rattling thwung of the wobbly cork tub
Bound with its brittle stumps of varnished feathers
That however hard you hit it, slowed, and turned.
It made me think of the parson's nose, all quills:
When it wavered towards me over the washing-line
It was like getting ready to biff a chicken's bum.
And if I missed, although it had stopped dead
Mysteriously in mid-air, it dropped just too quickly
Out of my reach, like a newsreel commando.
Whatever I might have known about adult love,
About the sacred triviality of letters
Or their conspiracy at a distance about presents,
Whatever I suspected might be uncertain in the future,
In the size of oceans, the licensed irregularity
Of wars and the accuracy of torpedoes,
Cries out from these laborious sentences
With all their childish feeling and now with all
My later tears. I HOPE YOU WILL COM BACK SOON
SO WE CAN HAVE SOM FUN. That winged basket,
That little lofted button, forever hovering,
Still hangs in the back yard, beyond my racquet.
The feathers are splayed in the sun, like the fragile words
We sometimes write and mean, which therefore always
Mean and always will be there to do so.
SEND A FOTORGAF OF YOR SELF. It glints
With the stitching of angels, buoyant in the light,
Never falling. WELL WELL GOOD BY DADDY DEAR.
from Collected Poems (Chatto & Windus, 2002), © John Fuller 2002, used by permission of the author and the publisher.