Almanac Poetry: ‘The Practice Nets’ – Philip Hodgins





The Practice Nets


The way a dream of sporting glory dissolves
when early morning light seeps grimly back
into the room, so too this half-constructed aviary
with its slabs of wire mesh and concrete floor.
Instead of dirty Tipp-Ex worms the droppings
are red-raw skid marks mostly in the middle
where some of the unhelmeted batsmen lost sight
of just the ball they needed to keep an eye on.
Their bats are like the pitch in miniature.
Each one is badly scarred with the hot spots
and rashes of that disease which spreads beyond
the playing victims to their wives and kids —
the sempiternal pain of a middle-order collapse.
But perhaps worse are those more personal wounds:
the split webbing after a dropped slips catch,
two broken toes from practising in sandshoes,
and everyman’s nightmare of turning full-on
to an awkward ball without the vital box.
When banishment from next week’s team is likely
the anatiferous number-three will come back
to this uncovered nave and go through strokes
with all the devotion of a former sinner.
Watching the one who used to be their idol
groups of schoolchildren will hang along the aisles,
their fingers poking dangerously through the wire.
An act of public penitence is always fraught.
The padded man who finds himself exposed
to such a swaying congregation is never sure
which ball is going to cut sharply off the seam.
The only choice is to practise a straight bat
as if the life of chance could be theorized.
Not that these children pushing against wire
would ever be impressed with a return to form
which only happened before the five real days.


They know that that’s the attraction of the nets.
It doesn’t matter how many times you’re out.
You’ll always carry your bat. It’s like a dream.


Philip Hodgins



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