Michael Vince Poems

Twelve Poems of Michael Vince

photo of Michael Vince in Rome


A coachman blows crumbled tobacco into

the nostrils of a prostrate horse. We call

this stroke ‘the staggers’. Two friends who

begin a duel in jesting, and both fall

die thus for friendship’s sake. Carefully pass

the whores in doorways blurring can with might.

Venison, neat’s tongue, sparrows-grass:

no company at home, less appetite.

And even in cheating there are rational ways.

Turn thus away and no gold coins are found

though some are taken; keep from plays

three months by binding vow, or put ten pound

into the poor-box. Business lengthens out

days into nights in service of the King

whom all men cheat, and most men doubt.

Eyes weary at the task must still be reading,

ears must have music. Every day’s amount

- gossip, expenses, public, personal -

fills columns, rendering account

hard to make balance with occasional

omissions and revisions. Blood from a sheep

transfused into a madman. For who can

detail it all - woken from sleep

by ghosts inside the flues - if not the man

gazing in church upon the handsome hook-

nosed daughter of a neighbour till he comes

thinking of having her. That look

feasting or fasting sweeps up all the crumbs

of what it sees, and as it feeds it grows.

At home the books are listed for the press

and wife, poor wretch, is ill of those,

while Bagwell shocks with her full nakedness

at Deptford. Now the cellar floods with turds,

the city burns, a neighbour drops down dead,

The staggers. Cannon sound, more words

encrypted in the dark. Then off to bed.