These pieces were written to commemorate friends, to celebrate their lives or consider their deaths. Hopefully this section of the website won't get much bigger.
(for my Aunt)
Heather and I are walking her dogs
through a landscape out of Constable.
Turning from the road that takes the trucks
across the Severn at Bridgenorth and into Wales,
the lane leads down towards the stream,
a narrow wooden bridge, a mill.
She tells me of the recent lambing
hard work in bitter cold and names, again,
the flowers in the hedgerows
that push abundance to obscenity.
I promise, next year, I’ll remember.
knowing that I won’t, she laughs,
and breaks into a song I’ve known since I was five.
And neither of us know
that she is dying.
A phone call, bus rides,
evil sibilance of tyres
on the empty winter streets
of a city drawn by Bosch
growing darker by the second.
Outside Intensive Care
a diminished man who was my father
waits in the drifting snow.
For the first time in my life
he’s lost for words.
redrawn in loving colours
by Pre-Raphelites on benzedrine,
Ophelia is wired into a box,
surrounded now by twitching lights
repetitive mechanical noise
and the habitual hushed movements
of the drifting staff.
They send her home
to the cracked grandfather clock.
Stabbed by the writhing trees
the winter sun bleeds over empty hedgerows
deep orange raked by harder black.
Silence starts to gather
like mourners at the door.
I sing for her
stacking songs against the moment
and both of us now know
that she is dying
That summer in the Alps
(my twenty first),
I bought a postcard with a picture
that I knew she’d like
before remembering she was dead.
(I.M Martin Bochenek.)
I remember why the full moon tastes of Pernod.
Birds on the Wire both, the day talked through,
and the long walk back to camp:
wine, stories, songs, so many stars.
My Rambling Boy, there’s always one more river.
One more wave. One more bend to turn
and then the long drive home, for talk and laughter.
If not for you or me, then for the ones who will inherit.
We are custodians of the song:
proud possessors of this gift.
this art of being human:
in a bar, Bourg St Moritz,
the full moon peering from behind the hill
to catch a juke box playing Leonard Cohen
a winter night in Birmingham
eating ice cream in the sleet
scripting letters, trying to match the ones you wrote
on the long drive to Saint Anthony
Barry Lopez, Jimmy Buffet
while the thunder hammered bass lines for your truck.
It is my privilege and my pleasure
To have shared some time with you.
I’ll take that with me, Rambling Boy.
And nothing, nothing, nothing
Takes it away.
About ten to four on Saturday
he’d rise to leave, whistling his way
towards the bus stop, cane tapping time
as he rounded the corner, fading.
The ritual involved two silver coins
‘for the kids’, left on the mantelpiece,
always like a novel afterthought.
His tidy reticence sometimes unbuttoned
in the smokers’ fug of family gatherings
venturing out on streams of quiet humour
and gentle verbal lunacy, the way his brothers
had tiptoed in the edges of the sea
before diving under breaking waves.
Masters of digression who defied irrelevance.
Courteous, solid, invisibly familiar.
‘Old Men with perfect manners’
Survivors of gaslight, whose father drove
a horse drawn cart. On hand when needed
to help with the necessary, without asking
for praise or credit when the debt was called.
After such a life what memories?
Coming down the steps at Connelly station
The smell and then the noise of Dublin.
He pauses, shakes his head: It was great
the big city, (laughing) anything was big
Box Brownie photos in an old shoe box?
The cars date passing decades
as the trousers, hats and hairstyles
move towards the time for his departure.
But this is so untidy. And how he would have hated that.
Nuannaarpoq: meaning to take extravagant pleasure in being alive. It summed up the subject of this next piece. I wrote it at camp on the middle Fork of the Salmon River, the night after it happened. I have always resisted the urge to edit it. Even doggerel has its uses. Dixon went on to climb mountains, run rivers and generally exhaust anyone who knew him who was silly enough to try and keep up.
The Ballad of Tappen Falls.
(to the tune of any generic slow sleazy blues)
Jerry Dixon ran the South fork
With an English friend
He ran some evil rapids
He cheated death again
Then they paddled down the Middle Fork
And were not impressed at all
So the river quietly rumbled
Wait till Tappen Falls.
The river waited patiently
for the best part of a week
Jerry said: ‘There’s nothing on this river
Half as Bad as Devil Crik
And these things that you call rapids
They are really rather small’
And the river quietly rumbled
Just wait till Tappen falls.
A bozo in his Duckie
He was out to have some fun
He took his cigar stub from his fat lip
Asked ‘Can I make that middle run’
Jerry tried hard to dissuade him
Said he’d stand no chance at all
If he stuck his rubber duckie
In the hole at Tappen Falls
The right had line looked obvious
Scouted from the bank
But poised above the rapid
Our Jerry’s mind went blank
He did the main drop sideways
To the wonder of us all
And that’s how he got stuffed
In the drop at Tappen Falls.
He was trashed, chewed up, spat out
Rock spotting upside down
He saw God at the bottom
As the boat bounced round and round
And lined along the river
All the bozos said, with awe:
‘Oh so dat’s de way you do it
When you kayak Tappen falls’.
So the South Fork of the Salmon
Is white water at its best
You got Rooster Creek and Devil creek
To put skills to the test
But underestimate the Middle Fork
You’ll hear the river call
For a dose of True Religion
Stuff up on Tappen Falls.