Poetry: Il Duce's Match | clivejames.com
[Invisible line of text as temporary way to expand content column justified text width to hit margins on most viewports, simply for improved display stability in the interval between column creation and loading]

Il Duce's Match

Your serve was never great – often out of control,
every other ball would soar so high and plummet
to the ground, whistling as quietly as a bomb,
the fatal one they say you hear or is it never hear...

before landing miles out. Second serve.
I remember how time after time, I willed it to go right,
for you to push ball over net with the softness
and precision of a kitten, the relief

of those occasional rallies. You small and hot
and reddening, as three turned into four o'clock,
flagging opposite streams of young diplomats –
all important friendships wooed across those warm weeks –

the need for an ally behind your struggle
to entertain the Yanks, to master tennis:
that summer's most popular and most fashionable
invented game. Our shaded court, the heavy air,

cut by laughter and fifteen love, il Duce,
applause on cue. Let. The ball splicing over,
as close a call as those I would wake to,
listening from our huge white bed, to you

in the bathroom, as you washed and shaved,
only your shadow visible on the cool of the black marble floor
as I resisted the start of each day – content to lie
and listen to the sound of your beauty regime:

the slow scraping of razor across skin, left to right,
straining to reach the very back of the head
you shaved entirely the day you blushed
to find your hair receding – a soft low curse

as occasionally the razor slipped
and caught flesh, those little red flecks of error
that in all those hundreds of posed pictures never
showed up. Prediletto, I think, even now, of how

when time began to run like sand through your hands,
you would wake worrying from the dream
in which you forgot to shave your head,
love fifteen, were late at your desk, and a headline

not penned by you slipped though the net, love thirty,
and you couldn't find an umpire to lie, love forty,
and make decisions, thirty love, at which those lithe American boys
would shake their heads, forty love, and frown, game, set, match,

and shrug, as I stood by waiting with lemonade, Coca Cola
and Pimms, all the latest, necessary fads,
looking from under my broad rimmed expensive hat,
on their gold tanned flesh . . .

I dream too, of those summer days, and wake convinced
even now of what you – dead, defeated
and gone – said you always knew:
that it's the details – piccolo, minuscolo –

that matter most in the end; the seconds
and the split seconds between serves, that shot
that you almost, but not quite, got,
the sun in your eyes, the all important present or absent

breeze in the trees; dreams, in which the world, amore,
is not black and white, but colour –
so that the blood shows up – those minute nicks that through
un-remembering sleep, some mornings, I still reach to kiss.