(To Paul Sykes, author of ‘Sweet Agony’)

He demolished five doors at a sitting

And topped it off with an outsize window

One Christmas afternoon, when drunk;

Sober he smiled like an angel, bowed,

Kissed ladies’ hands and courtesy

Was his middle name.

She tried to pass for thirty at fifty-six,

Called him “My Sweet piglet” and laid out

Dainty doylies for his teatime treats; always

She wore black from toe to top and especially

Underneath, her hair dyed black, stuck up in a

Bun, her lipstick caked and smeared, drawling

From the corner of her mouth like a

Thirties gangsters’ moll, her true ambition.

“Kill him, kill him, the bastard!” she’d scream

As all Wakefield watched, “It’s Grotty,

Grotty’s at it again!” as pubs and clubs

Banned them, singly or together and they

Moved lodgings yet

again, landlords and

Landladies left reeling behind broken doors.

Blood-smeared walls covered with a shiny

Patina of carefully applied deceits! “It was

The cat, the kids, them druggies, lads from

Football”, anyone, anywhere but him and her.

Once I heard them fight, “Barry, Barry, get

The police,” she thumped my door, double

Five-lever mortice locked against them,

“Call t’ police ‘e’s murderin’ me!” I went

And calmed her down, pathetic in black

Underwear and he, suddenly sober, sorry,

Muttering, “Elaine, Elaine, it were only fun,

Give me a kiss, just one.”

Was this her fourth or fifth husband, I’d

Lost count and so had she, each one she said

Was worse than the last, they’d all pulled her

Down, one put her through a

Dorothy Perkins

Plate-glass window in Wakefield’s midnight,

Leaving her strewn amongst the furs and

Bridal gowns, blood everywhere, such perfection

Of evidence they nearly let her bleed to death

Getting all the photographs.

Rumour flew and grew around her, finally

They said it was all in a book one ‘husband’

Wrote in prison, how she’d had a great house,

Been a brothel madame, had servants even.

For years I chased that book, “Lynch,” they

Told me, “It’s by Paul Lynch” but it wasn’t,

Then finally, “I remember, Sykes, they allus

Called him Sykesy” and so it was, Sweet Agony,

Written in prison by one Paul Sykes, her most

Famous inamorato, amateur boxing champion

Of all England, twenty years inside, fly-pitcher

Supreme, king of spielers; how she hated you

For beating her, getting it all down on paper,

Even making money for doing it, “That bastard

Cheated me, writing lying filth about me and

I never saw a penny!” she’d mutter, side-mouthed,

To her pals.

But that book, that bloody book, was no pub myth,

It even won an Arthur Koestler Literary Award

And is compulsive reading; hardly, as a poet,

My cup of tea but I couldn’t put it down.

Paul Sykes, I salute you, immortaliser of Elaine,

Your book became and is my sweetest pain.

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