It sailed across the startled town,
over chapels, over chimney-pots,
wind-blown above a block of flats
before it floated down.
Oddly, it landed where I stood,
and finding’s keeping, as you know.
I breathed on it, I polished it,
till it shone like living blood.
It was my shame, it was my joy,
it brought me notoriety.
From all of Wales the rude boy came,
it ceased to be a toy.
I heard the girls of Cardiff sigh
When my balloon, my red balloon,
soared higher like a happiness
towards the dark blue sky.
Nine months since, have I boasted of
my unique, my only precious;
but to no one dare I show it now
however long they swear their love.
‘It’s a Jew’s balloon,’ my best friend cried,
‘stained with our dear Lord’s blood.’
‘That I’m a Jew is true,’ I said,
said I, ‘that cannot be denied.’
‘What relevance?’ I asked, surprised,
‘what’s religion to do with this?’
‘Your red balloon’s a Jew’s balloon,
let’s get it circumcised.’
Then some boys laughed and some boys cursed,
some unsheathed their dirty knives:
some lunged, some clawed at my balloon,
but still it would not burst.
They bled my nose, they cut my eye,
half conscious in the street I heard,
‘Give up, give up your red balloon.’
I don’t know exactly why.
Father, bolt the door, turn the key,
lest those sad, brash boys return
to insult my faith and steal
my red balloon from me.
by Dannie Abse
from Poems, Golders Green (1962)
Fun facts: Dannie Abse was born in Cardiff, Wales, to a Jewish family. He was the younger brother of politician and reformer Leo Abse and the eminent psychoanalyst, Wilfred Abse. Unusually for a middle-class Jewish boy, Dannie Abse attended St Illtyd’s College, a working-class Catholic school in Splott.