Built like a gorilla but less timid
In the first stanza, MacCaig creates an almost cartoon-like image of an American police officer. The physical description and the phrases he uses suggest a stereotype from a film or tv drama. But MacCaig also hints at the human being behind this image.
MacCaig opens the poem with a simile that demonstrates the policeman’s physical potential. Here, the reader is given the impression of an imposing figure who is a formidable presence. He is immediately compared to an animal. The idea of a gorilla in New York suggests the giant ape, King Kong.
Though his physical stature is like a gorilla, MacCaig writes that he is less timid, showing a man who is tough and perhaps brave. While gorillas can be timid, they are more generally seen as violent and threatening. MacCaig's tone can be read jokily, implying the cop is even less timid than a not-very timid gorilla.
thick fleshed, steak-coloured
The policeman is then described as being tough on the inside, too, with MacCaig describing him as
thick fleshed, steak-coloured. Word choice of flesh and steak compare the man to a piece of meat, something raw and uncompromising, with possible connotations of blood and violence.
MacCaig then metaphorically describes the policeman’s eyes as
two hieroglyphs that
Hieroglyphs are pictures that were used as language in Ancient Egypt. Each image would have a specific meaning. This presents his eyes as symbols that are difficult to read. Instead of his eyes showing inner emotion they only mean one thing - trouble.
Ancient hieroglyphs may also suggest that his face is like it is carved in stone. Possibly his expression is weathered, and his eyes give an insight into his previous experiences. Additionally, it could suggest that he has scars on his face that, again, tell us of the violent nature of his previous experiences.
Another key metaphor soon appears when MacCaig writes that the policeman
walks the sidewalk and the thin tissue over violence. This tells us that violence is never far away in the streets that the man patrols – like tissue, peace is fragile, delicate and can shatter at any moment. The thin tissue creates a strong contrast to
thick flesh. This suggests that importance of the cop in preventing the thin tissue of civilisation from ripping open into disorder.
The dangerous environment that the policeman works in is captured further when MacCaig writes that
when he said, ‘See you, babe’ to his wife, he hoped it, he truly hoped it. The language the cop uses sounds cliched and thoughtless - like something from a film or tv series. However, the rest of this phrase shows the vulnerability that his role in society brings.
The repetition of
hoped it goes some way in stressing the danger of his environment, hinting at desperation and contrasting with the casual dialogue between the policeman and his wife. To the policeman, saying
see you to his wife isn’t just a meaningless comment but a genuine wish, and
truly adds authenticity to this.
He is a gorilla
MacCaig ends the stanza by repeating the gorilla image from the opening line. Instead of a simile saying the cop is like a gorilla, a metaphor is used, making the comparison stronger. To the policeman,
Hiya Honey, is no cliché’. For him, this is a genuine loving greeting to his wife. He is truly grateful to make it home safely each day, and is grateful for the solace that can be found at home.