The Bones

Since no one’s left to pad out the story,
these are the bones of it: Saturday evening,
an RAF base (south Yorkshire, most likely),
the last weeks of World War Two.
The lads fix to meet at a hotel in town –
they might not be here next Saturday night.
The bar soon fills, and there’s laughing and noise.
The girls are friendly. They all should be dancing,
but where’s the band? The barman says the band’s
gone to War, but they didn’t take the piano.
As far as the airmen know, no one can play,
but somebody calls out: ‘Who plays piano?
Let’s have some music!’ And tall, quiet George says,
‘I play a bit’, and they slap his shoulders
and let him through, and he plays a bit for hours.
They sing and dance because War’s nearly
over and here come the post-War days.
Lads line up pints on the piano top,
too much beer by half for one pianist,
and anyway George is no drinker.
Then someone announces they ought to lock up,
and George is shutting the piano lid
when one of the men leans across and says,
‘By, bloody hell, George, though, you’re a dark horse!
All this bloody time, and none of us knew.’

This is quite slender, as stories go,
but it has a beginning and moves
to an end, with a crisis in-between.
There’s still some fleshing out to be done,
which bare bones leave plenty of space for:
uniforms, Brylcreem, blue smoke in glass light shades,
the shade of the lipstick the girls lay their hands on.
And how have they got there? Bikes? A lorry?
Will any man marry his dancing girl,
or only promise to?
What do the old ones
keep to themselves as they watch from the side?
Possibly stories with broken bones
they could relay the flesh onto if they wished,
but old ones don’t tell all that might be told.
Or if they do, not the same way twice.


Robert Etty lives in Lincolnshire. His poems have appeared in literary publications since the 1980s. Shoestring Press has published several of his collections.