Friday night and a black and white telly,
Angels with Dirty Faces sent him
back to a latchkey childhood when
he’d sneak in for a matinee screening
and when he surfaced it was as one
of those scrappers in the backstreet cellar
and gym, the New York streets
he’d never seen but they had the rough glow
of those he called his own.
Oh yeah, he could tell you –
it was rich man’s justice that sent
Rocky O’Sullivan to the electric chair;
eyes ablaze, to see him you’d swear
he’d’ve swapped the settee right then,
no fear, to live for an hour in Rocky’s skin
and taken the volts as well.
By the time we got to seeing White Heat
he was trigger-happy with an index-finger gun,
fag-ash flying all over the carpet,
Top o’the World if we joined in;
By Public Enemy he was all lip
slapping coppers about the room,
pausing to shout for mugs of tea
when adverts butted in.
For years, when I was young enough
to believe it, or almost believe,
he told me he was Jimmy Cagney’s
(never James to him) long-lost kid half-brother.
Later they’d slit their thumbs as blood brothers
or be promoted to cousins. By then
I’d worked it out: they could’ve been
And Cagney –scrapper, hoofer, wise-cracker –
was just a kick in the arse from being
one of the Dead End Kids, or him,
as if they’d grown at each other’s wing:
one got as far as the factory gates,
the other one fluked a screen test.