Tambour Rasp above the Ditch of Thieves
after a line from Eugenio Montale’s ‘The Storm’
I can’t describe the sound but it’s abrasive,
a kind of grating, a sort of rubbing from below.
But it’s clear where it comes from: way down
in the deep trench of crooks, narrow conduit
of swindlers, the well-cut ha-ha of hoodlums.
It’s a scouring that rises up from the trough
of brigands, dyke of looters, fleet of muggers.
This scratching of criminal collusion, a noise
of raiders in drains, marauders in gullies and
pirates in gutters. It grinds on the drum, invades
like a villainous earworm with its jarring of
pickpockets in fosses and poachers in moats,
coy dacoits in empty ducts. It’s a feint rumbling
of robbers that travels through the murky waters
of a fleet. Not a bugle of bandits and burglars
soaking in a sap, more the loud, syncopated sound
of shoplifters lifting in a straight watercourse,
armed highwaymen with their foreign haul
hunkered down in a drained channel, squatting.
Listen, put your ear to the ground, can you hear it?
Paul Stephenson has published three pamphlets: Those People (Smith/Doorstop, 2015), which won the Poetry Business pamphlet competition; The Days that Followed Paris (HappenStance, 2016), written after the November 2015 terrorist attacks; and Selfie with Waterlilies (Paper Swans Press, 2017). He co-curates Poetry in Aldeburgh and lives between Cambridge and Brussels. His debut collection is due in 2023. Website: paulstep.com / twitter: @stephenson_pj / instagram: paulstep456