The Conjuror

The conjuror stands by tradition
with one eyebrow puckered
and the snazz of his fingers going

pfff! pfff! as if
he were about to extract ectoplasm
as sheer as a black market nylon
from the round mouth

of his assistant, standing by tradition
with one eye on the wings
as demure as a Sennett heroine.

For some years, I practised vanishing.
I threw my voice into a pool
which I smoothed flat into millpond.

With a gabbled abracadabra
I disappeared into the faded drapery
at the edge of the stage
in the act of raising a laugh,

a rafter, a question, pfff! pfff!
until the limelight shivered
and the audience, bored and irresolute,

headed for home. My assistant
was nicked by a stage-door johnny
who had popped in for a prompt

and left with a basket of tricks.
Having stolen away myself, I stood
by tradition, in a nick of time.

I had hidden my topper and tails
and had given up ghosting my way
on to the boards. The years were flat

like film images. There was nothing
up the long dark and suspicious sleeves;
my fingers were rid of their fidget.

Came and went. The words on the poster
failed me. My agent became a rabbit
in someone else's act. The doves

bought shares in a pigeon coop,
and gambled with sufficient success
to set themselves up in a posh copse

at the edge of the green belt. I lost
my patter. I left my best wand
at a lost luggage office, and walked

straight into daylight. And now I find
myself by tradition on the fringe
of a former existence, my name

in different lights (I have abandoned
the pseudonyms, sobriquets, the batch
of catchphrases). No applause needed.

Would like to sit in the stalls,
pop the opera glasses open, lean back
and cast a half-sentimental eye
over the credits, pfff!

pfff!, the stubs, the old programmes,
the light that ushered us in,
the echo of the gallery's gasps

still touching, out there in the dark.
So this is what it means, now,
to be a conjuror: to have vanished

like a punchline on the tongue's tip,
and now, emptied of regret, to wake
the smiles on your face. My scripts

are ripped up. Vanishing: this I can
always do - there are some tricks
in the system. They are birthright
and trademark, unlearned.

We are steeped in tradition.
Now I visit your theatre, pleased
to share a minute, whatever fraction

your contracts permit. For I am
no illusionist: the magic simply exists
in this, my quiet composure.



From Robinson Crusoe's Bank Holiday Monday

for Gilly Crosby