Jack’s Cage

It was an open-air enclosure they kept him in.
Put right out of sight at the end of the orchard.

An orchard of course was where they made his cage.
Where the apple-trees were.
Although you saw citrus from the road.

And we kids came upon it by accident.
Jack’s cage.

It was rusted and overgrown.
And you might’ve thought chickens
but for the paths worn down to the clay
where Jack walked.
And there was no chicken-house.

There was no cover at all in his cage.
No shelter from the morning frost or the rain
or hail or the snow that sometimes fell.
But far worse of course than this,
there was no shade from the sun.

And worse again for us,
there were no latrines in Jack’s cage.

We didn’t see Jack at first.
We saw his shopping-trolley.

God knows how he’d contrived to get that in there.
Or tricked the owner into lobbing it over the bars of the cage.
A mere eight foot or so, with razor-wire on the top.

But there it was.
Woven into the grass, the matted hair and plastic
from plastic-bags which migrate west.

We didn’t see Jack because he’d deserted his trolley-bivouac.
And his skin was the colour of rust and clay.
And his limbs were as skinny as a bird’s.

And we didn’t expect to find a man in a cage.
In an orchard on my uncle’s farm.
Although you could scarcely call him that.

He was Jack.
And we were kids.

We poked him alive with sticks.
And when he finally moved we threw apples at him.
But only the rotten ones.

And it was probably the funniest thing I’d ever seen,
watching him shake and crawl and scratch himself.
And when his tongue remembered how to speak
listening to his crazy talk.

Without telling the adults anything we’d sneak down to Jack.
And roll around on the ground laughing outside his cage.

Just how it happened I’ll never know.
But one day the fun at Jack’s cage came to an end.

He must have overheard one or another of us talking.
Us amongst ourselves.
Saying –
Go and get some stones or mud or something else to throw.’

Anyway, he learnt our names.
And he stood up on his legs.
And with the utmost dignity pronounced each one.

For once we didn’t laugh.
And dropped the rocks or clumps of turd or mud we were holding.

And before we ran away from there without ever turning back
we heard him say –
I am Jack, Friends‘…