He would drink by himself And raise a weathered thumb Towards the high shelf, Calling another rum And blackcurrant, without Having to raise his voice, Or order a quick stout By a lifting of the eyes And a discreet dumb-show Of pulling off the top; At closing time would go In waders and peaked cap Into the showery dark, A dole-kept breadwinner But a natural for work. I loved his whole manner, Sure-footed but too sly, His deadpan sidling tact, His fisherman's quick eye And turned observant back.
Incomprehensible To him, my other life. Sometimes on the high stool, Too busy with his knife At a tobacco plug And not meeting my eye, In the pause after a slug He mentioned poetry. We would be on our own And, always politic And shy of condescension, I would manage by some trick To switch the talk to eels Or lore of the horse and cart Or the Provisionals.
But my tentative art His turned back watches too: He was blown to bits Out drinking in a curfew Others obeyed, three nights After they shot dead The thirteen men in Derry. PARAS THIRTEEN, the walls said, BOGSIDE NIL. That Wednesday Everyone held His breath and trembled.
It was a day of cold Raw silence, wind-blown Surplice and soutane: Rained-on, flower-laden Coffin after coffin Seemed to float from the door Of the packed cathedral Like blossoms on slow water. The common funeral Unrolled its swaddling band, Lapping, tightening Till we were braced and bound Like brothers in a ring.
But he would not be held At home by his own crowd Whatever threats were phoned, Whatever black flags waved. I see him as he turned In that bombed offending place, Remorse fused with terror In his still knowable face, His cornered outfaced stare Blinding in the flash.
He had gone miles away For he drank like a fish Nightly, naturally Swimming towards the lure Of warm lit-up places, The blurred mesh and murmur Drifting among glasses In the gregarious smoke. How culpable was he That last night when he broke Our tribe's complicity? 'Now, you're supposed to be An educated man,' I hear him say. 'Puzzle me The right answer to that one.'
I missed his funeral, Those quiet walkers And sideways talkers Shoaling out of his lane To the respectable Purring of the hearse... They move in equal pace With the habitual Slow consolation Of a dawdling engine, The line lifted, hand Over fist, cold sunshine On the water, the land Banked under fog: that morning I was taken in his boat, The screw purling, turning Indolent fathoms white, I tasted freedom with him. To get out early, haul Steadily off the bottom, Dispraise the catch, and smile As you find a rhythm Working you, slow mile by mile, Into your proper haunt Somewhere, well out, beyond...
Dawn-sniffing revenant, Plodder through midnight rain, Question me again.