Peter Austin

[In memory of Joseph Merrick, the 'Elephant Man']


He's sleeping, semi-upright, but awakes
To stifled squeal and voyeuristic glance.
A hand, upon his shoulder, roughly shakes;
A voice he knows (despairs at!) hisses "dance!"
He stumbles ("Billy: give 'im this to drink!"),
Asphyxiates, collapses to his knees.
"'ere: feast on this!" A mirror (coral pink)
Is shown him, and he screams at what he sees..

The crime's forgot, a lock secures the room
Where, now, he writes, and paints, and model-makes,
And plays mein host to gentlewomen, whom
He treats to recitations, tea and cakes,
Forgetting, till there's nothing left to pass,
That frightful apparition in the glass.

* * *


A meeting was arranged, by Children's Aid,
To choose adoptive parents for Doreen,
But tidings from the doctor came between
So laden with foreboding, it was stayed.
Three couples, when they heard, "disfigured feet:
She'll likely never run, and never dance,"
Imparted their displeasure at a glance,
And engineered a provident retreat;

But one remained - a man with ragged hair
And calloused hands that never quite came clean,
A woman dressed in pink and mustard green,
Who shrugged and grinned, and said they didn't care..
In oak-floored homes, by crutch marks undefiled,
The others still await the perfect child.

Peter Austin lives with his wife and three daughters in Toronto, where he teaches English at Seneca College. His poetry has appeared in magazines and anthologies in Canada, the USA and several other countries. He also writes plays, and his musical adaptation of The Wind in the Willows will enjoy its fourth production this summer in Worcester, Massachusetts.