Still Cutting It 

by John Lancaster

Waiting for the curtain to rise
before the compere’s Hands together, let’s hear it for…
at Aston Hippodrome, or even weekly jobs at
The Pelican in Hockley; The Barrel, Summer Lane,
Spock would work the alto keys to a nervous rattle,
like one of his marionettes’ dancing wooden bones,
with fingers chisel-scarred, cut-healed from his other love:         
you need just the same caress and feel he’d say. That touch.

Gig-years on, it finally fell
on lungs burned-out by smoke from Pirate Shag tobacco.                
He’d been eaten away to starving-thin, whittled down
fine as one of his owl-headed holly walking sticks.
We cleared his place in half an hour: bed, two easy chairs,
pine table, hand-made chest of drawers, tools, Selmer sax,
the old Dansette and a box of jazz, mostly Parker,
Rimington, Barnes and Cap’n Handy, the ones he learned from
and could never part with, not for any money. And
in the foodless fridge to stop the green wood drying out,
blocks of basswood, ash, maple, butternut, apple, pear:
a half-carved bowl and serving spoon in cherry and plum

for his Selly Oak shop, window
stage for his art, if you like, to call to others. Out back
with him gouging grooves, ideas in wood, we’d play new tracks.
Now when I play the crackly 78 I kept
of Konitz blowing Skylark, it’s him I hear soaring
from that meadow in a mist. Or see, after storms in
Handsworth Park, cutting broken boughs for that treasure hoard.

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After being a second prize winner in the National Poetry Competition 1979, John Lancaster’s poems became widely published in magazines such as Poetry Review, The Rialto, Ambit, The North, London Magazine, and Times Literary Supplement. His five poetry collections include The Barman (Smith/ Doorstop, 1993), Here In Scotland (with Milan Knizak) (Vetus Via, Brno, 2000), and Potters: A Division Of Labour (Longmarsh Press, 2017), which won the inaugural Arnold Bennett Book Prize in 2017. He lives in Totnes, Devon, England. As a jazz pilgrim, he lived a while in New Orleans and still plays trombone.