Egg tempera on pressed wood panel, 1948


A compound flagged by concrete, cracks unadorned

By blades of grass straggling into the light pouring in


Between still inhabited torched tenements uncleared

To make way for a renaissance foretold by building


Sites block after block, a bare-chested boy reaching


Outside the shadow a rising tower casts as he ascends


The metal fence cut across the yard, the shirt knotted

Round his neck a sweep of wings circumscribed


As he steps into the air, by one hand hanging rampant

Eyes sunwards, a punk Icarus already fallen on hard times


Three fellow toughs below him, shiftless and bored

One picking his nose, one flexing a black hand inside


His catcher’s mitt—a cast-off—with no hope for a game

Arm heavy on the third’s shoulder, who leans indifferent


Against chainlink, a bat unswung and angled downwards

Between his thighs, a fourth boy espaliered against a brick


Wall on the opposite side of the fence adrift safe in his own

Thoughts while they take in the spectacle of flesh bared


To the sun, three other youths across the yard preening

For anyone who looks, indolent, with no swimming hole


To dive into, a singlet untucked, a shirt off the shoulder

Another’s entirely off, his dungarees’ top button undone


Waistband eased back, skin gilding his flesh, hips and ribs

Raised up in shadow by late afternoon breeze, unsated eyes


Turned without surprise towards the playground gate

Palms slid inside his y-fronts, buttocks cupped as if


He were about to slip everything off, a model weary

Of scrutiny, the body no more than a tool of some trade


Picked up by chance, The Times crumpled at his feet

Torn pages stained and blowing, days-old headlines


At odds about which way to go: peace or conscription

Unclaimed laundry pegged overhead breezily in a flap


Another of this trinity able to daydream with a Marlboro

While the last, knees akimbo, balances on his ring finger


A bat primed for drive-balls—what a strange boy, frail

Yet untouched, unlike the girl in red who stands pinned


Between her lounging beau’s spread legs, manicured

Hands on his shoulders, wary about the future, poised


For a kiss and deaf to the whoops of two players at the far

End of the compound, who can’t stop vying for dominance.