'What do I do with days at 92? Wake and start to monitor
my breath again. No, no time for music. The last time
I tucked a fiddle under my chin was in Haydn's Nelson Mass.
Oddly, you know, something from it stayed with me,
a phrase out the Agnus Dei. I'm
puzzled why...never had
much truck with anything science can't approve.
Six-and-a-half stone when they got shut of me
out of the Royal (here they're trying to fatten me).
The Royal was a disgrace. I kept on telling them I knew
what tricks they were up to...they
kept calling me
an old cantankerous fool, out to show them up.
Staff feed me better here but they're the same
loud rock-n-roll empty-heads who think a sing-along
is what I need to kill an
This man used to tend delphiniums, sweet peas and irises,
judge shows, spend evenings in the hope
of cloud-free skies at which to point a telescope;
admired fugues, would take andantes for a walk,
practise preludes, a courante, a sarabande, keep time
with metronomes; had been brought up to be
punctilious, always the scientist, trained to analyse...
and if that makes him question, sometimes bellicose, well
OK, it's also what has kept him going all these years.
I stood up to leave. He shook my hand.
The grip was fierce. Was it affection or malevolence
pulling me towards him as if to embrace a death?
In another room an accordion wheezed, people sang.
He shut the door on them, in obdurate silence sat
bedevilled, vexed by the Lamb of God, waiting.
Hard not to like him: he could spin a waggish yarn,
true or not seemed unimportant at the time and less so now.
He'd imitate a Southern drawl, the sort
snidey, adenoidal cowpokes used, shifty manic men
who hunted aging, tired gunfighters down, after which
he'd pitch it to a puss-cat whine so to bring on stage
an aged and imperious aunt, 'quite, quite put out'
(pure Henry James) in Venice by naive, well-meaning relatives;
would spin out her acid syllables with high-styled graciousness.
O very droll. One day she'd say 'Now don't you go
aputtin yoselves out, pie na heed t dear old me!'
and then the next 'Ah had so hoped yo'd taken me to see
the cemetery place Stravinsky and that mad Ezra Pound
rest their wary bones.' To me he was a Holden Caulfield,
reluctantly middle-aged, finding (or losing) himself in France
and writing spin for bigwigs, 'Post-modern irony, yo bet!' he claimed;
getting sloshed, still bruised by phoniness, still edgy; it was
all there in his account of how his one-time partner'd booked
on that perfidious flight the US Air Force had brought down Ð
spinning it out of control - and how last-minute
re-arrangements saved his partner's life and altered his.
How real though was that yarn about his playing pool,
putting spin on ivory, in those greenhorn student days
in Washington, with - would you believe it? - Alistair Cooke,
something he swore his Prof arranged for Cooke to always win
'and guess who every week picked up the tab!'?
We swapped email addresses, he gave me the name of pills
prescribed for him, promised to let me know about DVDs
of Ibsen plays he said his father knew about...which I for all
my looking cannot discover anywhere...then wished me well.
TWO FOR DAVID GERARD
It can be done. You need an ebbing tide,
a wind that blows away from you
towards the Isle of Man and Ireland.
They say the Hoylake Lifeboat does it best:
crew lined up on deck, the coxswain reads
the Service of Committal, then with due
solemnity pours whatever there is remains of you
swirling down through the whelming tide.
There's also the Mersey pilot launch: they'll
buffet you to half-a-mile south-west
of the Bar Lightship, scatter you, reciting Tennyson...
but then you are obliged to wait until they have
a batch of urns to jostle out... which you
may think a touch impersonal. That said,
you might just welcome company. Then there is
the Mersey Ferry and its tumbling mayhem
of keening gulls: no-one will stop the ceremony,
you whirling away, as you've said you wanted to,
down the widening estuary, with the odd rose or two
thrown in...but, to repeat, you'll need to read the winds
and tides...wouldn't want to find yourself stranded
among pebbles out on Hilbre Island or on Moreton Shore,
or stuck to curdled flans of jellyfish, cast, with seaweed,
up the beach, or worse, despite yourself, go slithering off
upstream to rainy Manchester...better, beneath the watery floor,
to think of the stormy Hebrides or drifting down beyond
the Great Orme towards craggy old Land's End then out
to ride the white horses of the wild Atlantic's waves.
What Turner would have made of this!
an immensity of sky, bundles of black cloud
westering in, an orange sun slithering between,
rippled sands like fish-scales shimmering,
Hilbre Island a dozing humpback, Welsh hills
You'd have been impressed:
westward a mile of greying sand, then a dark
just discernible strip that was the estuary,
with buoys swaying, blinking, and, beyond,
the unseeable (but there)
waters of the Irish Sea.
Find and focus on the green one ...
that's where they took you, hauled by tractors
out across the crinkled sand to a place the boat
could slide into water deep enough to ride,
speed you to the river mouth for scattering
where the reliable tide was on the ebb.
From the boathouse we watched you go,
a blue and orange hull turning to shadow,
now to a receding pinprick of light, till finally
you entered blackness, out there somewhere
forever ahead of us.
© Matt Simpson 2006