2020 George Crabbe Poetry Competition – 2nd Prize
Adjudicator: Martin Figura

Frank was a knitted boy: plain and purl,
with a spare hand that attached
a harmonica to the slot of his mouth
which he then assumed like a silver grin,

harping through it a language of his own.
His face was pure purl, the curve of ear,
the tilt of brow, the prow of lips kiss-­pursed.
Frank’s mother had cast him off the row

like unwanted stitches, and Frank had felt
himself so cast, falling with weight yet silently
with the gravity of a tightly spun ball of,
for example, Aran, there being a slight

bounce and a degree of unravelling.
Frank then grew independently, breeding
his own ideas like stick insects and wheeling
them around on the velvet nap of caterpillars.

Frank was sweater and shorts, scratchy
grey above stocking­-stitch knees, long
frayed from forays into the hedge where
the thrush nested. Frank’s spare hand

had plumbed the thrush’s nest, fingered its
rough weft, felt the yarn in its rotundity.
Otherwise he stood with his toes curled
around stones in the soft silt of the river bed,

the cloudy water knee high and dough warm,
tightening his toe grip on the stones,
and all the time sliding the mouth harp.
He wanted to banish the frightful images

of cauliflower that kept creeping into his head,
the vegetable having been served to him
once for school dinner. He had fled down
the lane away from school, back to his bed

at Grand­daddy’s house. In his dreams
the heavily textured white curd pulsed
like a huge brain, then broke in half,
exuding a glaucous substance from its parts.

All Frank wanted to taste was the wood,
the metal of the harmonica, he blowing
and sucking at the honeycomb grid of it,
meting out his vernacular of stickleback,

blackbird’s egg and Grand­daddy’s pipesmoke.
Grand­daddy was braces and clay­-smeared spade,
drawing long-­necked tear-­inducing leeks
from the sod of his allotment.

Somehow Frank had a notion that blind, black
men played blues on harmonicas, so Frank
shut his eyes when he struck up his mouth harp
and focussed on the hue of the blackbird’s egg.

Copyright © Jane Henderson 2020

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