Anne Marie Corrigan: Sham Boy

My hometown is cut in two
       its knife a river
a sacred stream of flotsam
           whose muscular scum-lipped eddies
slash and score and whittle their way
           through marshy land
swirls like musical runes
           spell out thuggish poetry
from North to South
           from high street to low.

Sham Boy was Northside born
           of that snobbish watermark
to a moustachioed mother
           on infertile ground
where twisted scody streets run
            like the river runs
like he ran
           through sunless alleys
littered lanes
           and gallows humour
how could anything grow there?
           what freshly-sprung newborn could ROAR,
blasting from open lungs, throat and heart
           singing into hope?
but he tried.

Sham Boy’s father was a boxer
         got punch drunk
so drunk, even the docks
           had no job for him
after the ring had spat him out
           closed its gates in his mashed face
his mother was schizo
           his sister too
talked to the air
           wallpapered their rickety house in shiny tinfoil
in case the voices told them to set it on fire.

Sitting on a milkcrate
           socks soaked by dirty puddles,
Sham Boy SWORE
           as he cut into a Cornflakes box
slivers of light glinting on the kitchen’s silver walls
           cutting out cardboard
to replace the broken soles of his shoes
           that he would never be poor again

He would do
           whatever it took
to run from that river
           towards fertile ground
and sunny streets
           and rooms that didn’t smell of piss
to take a bounding leap and SOAR
           for a change.

Sham Boy found a way
           a murky path
where sludge and slurry
           slurped and slapped at his ankles
he rose and rose
           rose to Lord
of all the land
           so sought after, so high
so “Wanted!”
           he became a tabloid star
a young Micky Rourke
           a Celtic Scarface.

From across a jointed rave he saw me
he cleavered his way through cheek-to-jowl crowds
           Moses parting his ecstasy-soaked throng
jumping, fist-pumping, glowsticking
           he grabbed my face with gurrier-rough hands
and kissed me, hard
           branding me as friend, as insider
and released me
           even though he had no right
to do that, to mark me so
           I was not his
or anyone’s
           not even my own.

He told me his dreams of running further
           of soaring higher
with devil dust rimming his nostrils
           and I naysayed his way
though charmed was I by
           snakes that coiled ‘round each inked bicep
indigo like his eyes
           I had dabbled and now withdrew
No longer longing for the gutter.

Sham boy demanded too much
           from all he supplied
he flowed outwards
           from the Northside
peddled with bigger, hungrier thugs
           in the shadowy corners
of sunnier streets
           became more sham than boy
until no cardboard could fix his broken soul.

Who can stop the cascade
           once coursing water has made up its mind
to burst its banks
           to go and go and go?
I wish I could have saved him
           before he was found
every cut up bit of him
in a freezer
           in the Cote d’Azur
where the river runs clean
           and clear.

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