Like Loppy, our local river tramp
his cedar shack festooned with gar jaws,
snapping turtle shells. Wood-burning
stove, nurturing stew and tar coffee.
Trot lines in the morning, shotgun for fun
and uncivil defence. Like Thoreau,
“two chairs for company, three for society”.
No woman had ever been shocked there,
or left with wonder at what a man
can live without, one room
just slightly wider than a coffin.
Or, a blues harp man in a denim band,
screeching down the smoky fug.
Turning feelings inside out,
showing not telling, what life was really about.
Or wasn’t, depending on the guitar man
or the pedal steeler, zipper-thin,
face like a rawhide knife sheathe.
Axehandle frame taut to break,
asking nothing but what went down on stage,
what was paid, touched and felt.
Scholar in bulletproof tweed and brogans,
mahogany libraries globed and mapped.
Papyri, codex, marginal notes and text.
Magnifying glass the only necessary tool.
Soothing morocco, calfskin and vellum on the walls,
oak tables wider than a yacht.
Mind clean as a quill, and crisp,
like a spider’s web, an exquisite algebra
of pure thought.
Maybe I was a keeper of oranges and almonds,
grower of olives. Drinker from wells under skies
who’ve only known blue.
Butterflies the size of crepes
tease women rolling on samba hips,
singing through lips like gardenias
and where, always,
poppies dance whose petals never fall.
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2011. Best Scottish Poems is an online publication, consisting of 20 poems chosen by a different editor each year, with comments by the editor and poets. It provides a personal overview of a year of Scottish poetry. The editor in 2011 was Roddy Lumsden.
Tom Bryan’s poem offers, in the guise of a sort of faux CV, four alter egos: tramp, musician, scholar and exotic rustic. With a light heart, it neatly brings off this conceit. What appealed to me was the way the poem’s first word carries the poem’s syntax, with little need for explanation or further statement; also the unfamiliar, rich phrases which thread through the poem: ‘denim band’, ‘zipper-thin’, ‘exquisite algebra’.
I’ve applied for many jobs, using the usual CV. Yet most of us also have imagined lives, thus requiring an ‘Imaginary CV’. Loppy was a real American river tramp I knew. A ‘trotline’ is a baited line set out overnight, held up with plastic milk jugs. ‘Trot’, because you have to move from each baited line in a boat or skiff. I play blues harmonica and think I could have been quite good given time and application. I also like the sound of pedal steel guitar. The life of a scholar or librarian (I trained as one) also appeals. Solitary and hermit-like suits me fine. I worked for nearly six years as a librarian, though not in this ideal setting. I like sunny Spain and its islands. I paid heed to poem shape and the rhythm and near-rhyme of words.