From Chapter 10 of The Floating Harbour

Together he both lets me go and downs the rum that’s left. He hurls the bottle at a dog – thank chance, he misses.
Standing, now, beside an avenue that goes off to the right, I nurse my sternum – mast to pectoral sails – where sits a psychological contusion, if not a fleshly bruise.

Named for the king who’s in
the square named for the queen,
a public house sings out fiddle-music
from the windows of an upstairs room.

Gin with peppermint, rum, and port
carry on the breath (that carries on the wind)
from the dancing Bristol girls and Irish sailors,
passing by the windows of that upstairs room.

At the exit from the outside, the
entrance to the street, painted foreign sailors –
more than seven, less than nine – pour on and in,
heading for the hedonism of the upstairs room.

Shoving, shouts (“Outlandish men!”;
“You won’t touch that girl while I’m about!”):
a brawl beyond chest-beating behind
the windows of that upstairs room.

Separated men – Iberian from Gaelic –
and the painted sailors pour on and out.
The dancing – discontinued – lives again, seen
through the windows of the upstairs room.

Out, eventually, the domestic sailors come,
confronted by a dozen, drawing knives.
Heads against the cobblestone; pierced limbs and sides;
death and dispersal ‘neath the windows of an upstairs room.

Two soldiers, with their weapons recently re-covered, brush brusquely past my left and right – too late to do ought but drag some bloodied, man-shaped matter off officially, ‘fore it’s dumped into the river and its mud. I try to follow close behind but anew I’m weighted back: this time by hands upon both biceps, assaying to escort me to the magdalenium that’s meting out from out the pub’s back-street and taking in within its walls.

My name is William Altoft. I’m a writer in and from (and consistently on) Bristol, in the UK.



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