The Boy Who Swam In The Sky, poems by Owen Gallagher
Owen Gallagher was born of Irish parents in the Gorbals area of Glasgow, Scotland. He now lives in London. His previous publications are: Sat Guru Snowman, Peterloo Poets. Printed 2001. Reprinted 2004. Tea with the Taliban, Smokestack Books, 2012. A Good Enough Love, Salmon Poetry, Ireland, 2015, which was nominated for the T.S. Eliot award. The Boy who Swam Nightly in the Sky will be published in 2019 by Smokestack Books.
The boy who swam in the sky
When the moon was at its best
he fetched his dad’s sketch pad and pencil
and drew a boy who dived from a tower block,
somersaulted, and swam
upwards into the sky –
a starlit pool, where children swam
while adults slept, and where,
like fish, no one collided.
He practised all styles, excelled
in none, belly-flopped on a cloud
and dreamt he had entered
the Olympic hundred metres backstroke
and won, to be scooped up
onto the shoulders of Michael Phelps
who lowered him onto a podium
and granted him ‘Freedom of the Pools’.
Banners were draped outside his home,
school and local swimming pool.
When his watch bleeped he struck out
for home, swearing he’d save
for lessons to wow his dad,
who woke to the smell of chlorine
and found his son asleep wearing a laurel wreath,
an Olympic Gold Medal, and
wet swimming trunks.
I Could Have Been A Legend
When I read that Roy Rogers had galloped into Glasgow
and then hit the trail without my knowing, I ripped out
the front page picture of some snotty–nosed greenhorn
shaking Roy’s hand, and riddled it with bullet holes.
Roy’d been streets away while I rode through alleys
in my home–made cowboy duds reducing the city’s
crime rate and putting more bodies
in Boot Hill than Billy the Kid.
Policeman Pat Garrett always tipped his hat at me.
If Roy’d seen the prizes I’d won at fairground rifle ranges,
and watched me lasso a lollipop from a kid’s mouth,
he would’ve pleaded for me to be his sidekick.
He’d have envied my bullet–proof vest of comics,
and Trigger would have dipped his head when I sang,
‘A four legged friend…’ I could have been Roy’s stand-in!
But Mother never leaked he was in town.
She knew he’d rope me off to a Hollywood set,
that I’d marry a ‘Queen of the West’,
serenade her with ‘My Chickashay Gal’,
whistle for Trigger and Bullet at dawn.
Crawling and Trawling
Before Sunday mass Father would balance me
on his knee, trawl my scalp with a metal comb
to see if lice had dared to land, sabre them
with a thumbnail, and flush the corpses
down the sink. (At times, whole continents
of lice were on the move, drifting snowfields
that turned into an avalanche when I sneezed
and landed onto friends’ heads – their mothers
demanded my exclusion from school.) When
my scalp was free from these bloodsuckers
Father would massage Fairy Soap though my hair,
leave it to set in wave after wave:
a frozen ocean no head lice could scale;
a rock face no heading of footballs could dent.
Kissing the Corpse
The first corpse I kissed
was Pat McGinnis,
a Clare man from Ennis,
who lodged in Glasgow with Aunt Alice.
‘Never before had this bachelor
been kissed so much, if ever,’
said Mother, as she hauled me over
Pat’s coffin which reeked of lavender.
Though I went on to kiss fewer of the dead
than the living, I have often dwelt
on how many folk have wept,
and wished: ‘Oh, to be kissed,
once, and kissed as if I’ll be missed.’
© Owen Gallagher