Forty Years Ago

Ron Singer

Outside the courts the other day,
a fellow-squash player, forty, boasted,
“I only started playing two years ago.”
That carried me back to the Ox-and-Cow,
a rented Oxford dorm, in ‘seventy-nine,
when I, too, took up squash, at thirty-eight.
A summer to remember, especially now
that I can’t recall what I had for breakfast...

Cyclops Phil deplaned with boxes of Pampers
for our daughter, clutched like boulders in either fist.
(Zoe was two; the nappies (Brit.) didn’t fit.)
This Cyclops, benign, was a colleague and friend,
a scholar-athlete, and Anglophile, to boot.
“Meet me at eight!” he barked, “and bring your kit!”
He specified the “where,” but not the “why.”
“Aye, aye, sir,” I said, with a snap-salute.

The next a.m., he led me through a garden
in his old College, where he still kept digs.
We carried our kits. Entering a building
that looked like a shed, he flipped on the lights.
Voila! A squash court! (What else?) “Here,” he said,
proffering a racquet. “Shake hands with it!
That’s the proper grip.” Though older than me,
he beat me for years, like a drum or a rug.

Then, I pulled even. When his knees gave out,
I got even. Squash, a gentleman’s sport,
is jokingly compared to real estate.
Whoever controls the center, or “T,”
controls the game. A hindrance is a “let,”
and wags like me, disputing a call,
shout out, “Sub-let!” doubling the metaphor.

That summer, too, I push-chaired Zoe through town,
in search of playmates and iced-cream vendors,
equally scarce on this inclement isle.
From one truck came the haunting “Third Man” theme,
while I, Holly Martins, scanned the playgrounds
and sidewalks, up and down, to small avail.
When I did snag a child, Zoe would play,
but to ask for a replay was out of bounds.

We were blessed, on both sides, with good neighbors.
A banker’s widow, Mrs. Allen, had a cute dog
named Pongo. Zoe was so taken with him/
her/it that she renamed her own stuffed dog.
With Mrs. Allen’s picker, we snatched apples
from the Ox-and-Cow’s tree, gleeful larceny.
On the other side, the Turgessons
served us tea, while Zoe gazed at their fish.

Efforts to reciprocate were fraught:
“Oh, no, we couldn’t leave our Sue alone.”
When Sue, twenty-two, was invited, too,
we spent an awkward hour. Then, she went home,
port was poured, and life stories, exchanged.
“I married Mr. T. on the rebound, you see,”
confided Mrs. T. “My fiancé died
in the war. Still, it worked out pretty well.”
Mr. T., though also port-ified, looked ill.

A memorable excursion to Bath
was another highlight of that summer .
Driving Mrs. Allen (was the car hers?),
we circumambulated the Pump Room,
forgoing quotations from Austen (Jane).
On the way home, an untoward sequel
unfolded, at a pub called “The Trout,” in Lechlade.
The eponymous fish were delicious,

but there were --shall I say?-- difficulties.
Two year-olds were restricted to the bar,
where a shower of darts whizzed past our heads.
When an exception was made for the young
(Zoe) and old (Mrs. Allen), we moved
to the back room, to finish our fish in peace.
Not to be! Soon, a rowdy biker gang
joined us, but they were sweet. They said we were “cute.”

Enough! Long-term memory having had its say...
(Oh, one last thing: one day, we saw a fox
sashaying down the middle of our road.
When we told Mrs. Allen, she smiled,
and said, “Oh, we see foxes all the time.
Oxford, you know, is really the countryside.”)
... it’s time for my lunch, it’s that time of day.
Though the brain may fail, the stomach finds a way.


About the Author

Ron Singer’s poetry has appeared in alba, Anemone Sidecar, Avatar Review, Borderlands, The Brooklyn Rail, Cake, Ducts, Evergreen Review, Grey Sparrow, The Hampden-Sydney Poetry Review, Strong Verse, Waterways: Poetry in the Mainstream, Windsor Review, and Word Riot. He is also the author of twelve books, with two more forthcoming. www.ronsinger.net.