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I seem to draw them to me.
They come swirling towards me
like tugboats
in the dusk – every tread unsteady.
They set their course
across the bar-room floor.

Some have life stories they need
to share. One recalled a fatal night
in the Navy: falling off the back
of a warship headed for Shanghai.
He said he stood for three days
on a reef, and prayed – and afterwards,
he clung to me
like a drowning man.

Often they’re older, and the more
drunk they get, the taller
their tales. I’ve been told
of ten-year sentences
in Brazilian jails – of smuggling
and supplying – and so many times,
of the hundreds of starry rivets
soldered by scarred hands
into Her Majesty’s hulls.

They’re hooked by my red hair,
swarming like fish
to a bright fly. Half-scared,
they slide over with a Scotch
and a story, maybe a sharp line
they thought up outside
in the streetlit cigarette haze.
They dive right in, as if through ice,
and they come up sparkling,
wheezing, waiting to be saved.

Claire Askew author details.

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