Three poems by Fiona Pitt-kethley


Jorge´s a “character”.

He has a dog and wears a cowboy hat

and poses by the statues on the front.

He dances at concerts in the square

and tourists stop to give him their spare coins.

One day I see him at a tiny beach.

He does a nervous breaststroke, stops and starts

quite close to shore. Never too old to learn.

A young man´s down there teaching him to swim.

Patiently passing on his skills.

This is real charity. They interact.

It’s not the “them” and “us” of those who give.

I´m less enthusiastic than I was

about the larger versions of the same.

Big begging businesses seeking our cash –

paying huge salaries to managers –

and some with dodgy paedos at their head.

Or pop-stars, using them to get more fame.

Somewhere, perhaps, there is a charity

for teaching homeless older guys to swim.

For every dollar given, fifty cents

pays for creative adverts on TV.

The rest funds staff in offices except

the five cents left to buy Speedos for tramps.

The man who teaches Jorge has cut out

these middle men. He’s getting the job done.

The only cost to him´s a little time.

Jorge can swim at last and start the day

with a refreshing dip when it is hot.

A bonus after sleeping on a bench.

Legends of Jorge´s history abound.

He’s always pleasant, always wears a smile

undimmed by roughing it throughout the year.

A big comedown some say. A lawyer once


The headless sailor´s found the perfect way

to earn a crust in times when jobs run out:

a spotless uniform, hat wired above

a space where you would think his face should be.

People take his photograph and drop a coin

into the cap that´s lying by his feet.

I am assuming that the sailor´s male

though there´s no clue to sex or ID.

Perhaps a family takes turns at it.

No instrument to learn, no work to do,

no complicated make-up for this act.

No hard luck story on a card to show

of cancer, immigration, lots of kids.

No shame in begging in this abstract way.

No need to look the giver in the eyes.

A great disguise. This mime might really be

a spy or private eye observing us.


Just one sword-swallower in Spain today,

Murray Molloy. I saw his act one time.

The town hall had provided several spots

where anybody from the town could busk.

Sword-swallowing like risky circus acts

only appeals to those who watch for slips.

A huge crowd gathered, hoping for the worst.

I turned the corner, found a busking spot,

sang several songs and felt performer´s nerves.

A stranger pressed three euros in my hand.

Busking was one thing on my bucket list.

Making a living any way you can.

Nothing is fixed. No pension at the end.

The audience if there is one waits around.

And some, perhaps, are there to see you die.

A juggler plies his act when traffic stops.

His skittles in the air while lights are red.

Some windows lower and drivers flip a coin.

He makes the pavement just before they start.

Poetry by Fiona Pitt-Kethley

Fiona Pitt-kethley´s books have been published by Chatto, Abacus, Salt, Peter Owen, Arcadia and others. She is also a prolific journalist. She lives in Spain with her family and adopted cats.

About the contributor

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