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Image by Chloe Barter

The Best Man That Ever Was

Annie Freud


The Best Man That Ever Was

Annie Freud


Poem introduction

When I first read Pauline Reage, in fact, her real name was Anne Desclos, 'The Story of O', it had a really great impact on me - I was very impressed and moved by it. And I remember feeling at the time that I would like to write something that went in a similar way to sort of, going to the ends of the earth, and my experience of writing the poem was in some ways like that. It was very exhilarating and quite frightening to write. In the fourth stanza, I mention something called 'zabaglione'. It's a particularly marvellous Italian sweet made of sugar and egg yolks and marsala wine. You really rarely see it on menus these days, but if you get hold of a recipe, make it for yourself it's absolutely marvellous.

The Best Man That Ever Was

The Best Man That Ever Was

I was never expected to sign the register
as all was pre-arranged by his general staff,
but I did it out of choice and for the image that I made
with the stewards and the bell-boys,
my gloves laid side by side, and his Party rings that I hid
from my family (it was torment, the life
in my family home, everyone smoking and rows
about guns and butter at every inedible meal
and my aunts in their unhinged state, threatening suicide),
and as I wrote my signature along the line
the letters seemed to coil like a snake
saying, I am here to be with Him.

There were always little jobs to do
in preparation for his coming - dinner to order,
consideration of the wine-list, hanging up my robe,
a dab of perfume on my palms.
But it was never long before I found the need to pay
attention to the corded sheaf of birch twigs
brough from home to service our love-making.
How he loved to find it, ready for his use,
homely on a sheet of common newspaper -
A Thing of Nature, so he said, so fine, so pure.
He'd turn away and smooth his thining hair,
lost as he was in some vision of grandeur.

And having washed and dried his hands with care
and filled our flutes like any ordinary man,
the night's first task would come into his mind.
He'd bark his hoarse, articulated command
and down I'd bend across the ornamented desk,
my mouth level with the inkstand's claws,
my cheek flat against the blotter; I'd lift my skirts,
slip down my panties and sob for him
with every blow. And I saw visions of my own: daisies,
sometimes brown contented cows, dancer's fuffy skirts,
a small boat adrift on a choppy sea; and once a lobster sang
to me: Happy Days Are Here Again!

He'd tut at the marks and help me to my feet
and we'd proceed to the dining room
and laugh and drink and raise our silver domes
on turbot, plover and bowls of zabaglione.
You'd think he'd never seen a woman eat. Once he took
my spoon out of my hand and asked me, Are you Happy?
I'd serve him coffee by the fire and tend the logs.
He'd unknot his tie. I'd comb my hair.
He'd make a phone call to no one of importance
and we'd prepare for rest. There never was a man
so ardent in the incocation of love's terms:
liebling, liebchen, mein liebe, mein kleine liebe!

and always the same - and the acts: the frog, the hound,
the duck, the goddess, the bear, the boar,
the whale, the galleon and the important artist -
always in the order he preferred -
eyes shut and deaf to the world's abhorrence
chrurning and churning in his stinking heaven.
It's over. But it is still good to arrive at a fine hotel
and reward the major-domo's gruff punctillo
with a smile and a tip and let the bellboys slap my arse
and remember him, the man who thrashed me,
fed me, adored me. He was the best man that ever was.
He was my assassin of the world.


Recordings

Annie Freud Reading from her Poems

1I Was the Manager of the Nipple Erectors

2To a Coat-Stand

3It's Not That You Can't Have Beautiful Things or Have Dreams

4To Have Longer Periods of Light One Has to Go North

5A Voids Officer Achieves the Tree Pose

6The Inventor of the Individual Fruit Pie

7Like What You Get When You Play It Backwards

8The Best Man That Ever Was

9A Retreat in an Edwardian Manor House

10The Most Beautiful Bottom in the World

11The Manipulation of Words

12Our Future - Day 1

13The Lost Republic of Coffee

14A Canaletto Orange

15Interlude for Xylophone, Banjo and Trumpet

16The Maskmaker of Wanstead

17'Nobody's Perfect'

18'The System'

19The Symbolic Meaning of Things and Reasons for Not Dying

20On the Street of Dripping Branches

21The Green Vibrator

22Rare London Cheeses

23The Ballad of Hunnington Herbert

24The Tragedy of the Passing Cloud Smoker

25Valentine Card

26The Death of a Bat

26Sausages and Flowers

28The Untameability of Subject Matter

29Preferring Goats

30The Study of Disease

31White