The Captain’s Table


By the time I saw him
there was nothing I could’ve done.

They’d cooked him whole.
He lay face down
across two trolleys fitted with bains-marie.

They’d turned his head to the side
so we’d get the benefit
of seeing his expression.

He looked surprised
as if he’d been caught unawares

and slow-cooked,
poached, by the look of him,
while occupied with something else entirely.

He looked as if at any moment
he might just say what.

His spine had been dug out of his back.
And the gravy had risen to the level of the skin
on either side
of the long trough made by its removal,
which ran from his tailbone to his neck.

As he came past I grabbed the fish-slice
and attempted to find part of him not well-done.
If it was raw, I reasoned, there’d still be a chance.

The fat moved
and non-descript lumps were all that rose to the surface
of the rich and yellowy-orange gravy.
It was like a curry.

My table were more amused
than dismayed at this show of bad manners.

He wants to compliment the chef!’ piped in one woman.

The staff, who were apparently well-versed in how to deal
with uncouth behaviour in the dining-room,
gently removed my hand from the implement
and sat me down.

My cuff was dripping fat.

I knew I was getting the brush-off
but what point was there in making a spectacle of myself?
It was already too late for Will.

I cleaned myself up with my napkin and,
smiling, I dabbed at the tears that had sneaked out.

I was like the naughty old man
at a home for the elderly,
cognizant of exposing himself
to the young female visitors,
suddenly ashamed
and crying uncontrolled.

The twinned trolleys had made their rattling way
around the room
showing off the special.

A glass was struck with a knife.
And there was movement at the captain’s table.
The white-jacketed figure was standing.

Before we could start
he waved his finger in the air,
as if to say
this was how I gauged the mood of the nation,
this was the finger
with which I took its temperature.

He had done so perfectly.
It was a coup.
Here we stood,
hungry for the main course.

The waiting-staff had come to attention
at their makeshift servery.

The media were gathered behind the diners.
Their cameras rolled.

A few incomprehensible words were mumbled.
We applauded.

And then we all sat down.

I knew that Will’s wife and his two children
had been confined to their cabin tonight.
And how I wished I was in mine now too,

and not confronted with this tiny portion
of my old friend
on a bed of saffron rice
and swimming in his gravy.