Northwords Now Issue 38

The FREE literary magazine of the North

Elegy for a Lost Brother

by Sheila Lockhart

I.   In the Old Ship

The Old Ship’s where I find him, having lunch,
slumped in his corner seat beside the fire,
a pint of best bitter and two sausage rolls
set up before him on the beer-stained teak,
‘Gastro grub, wild boar, not cheap.
All I can eat these days’, he says.

He’s looking rather thin and none too clean;
I test the waters with some gentle talk,
my trip abroad, his health, that sort of thing;
he’s staring at the lettuce on my plate
and asks if he can finish what I’ve left,
‘I’m really starved you know’, he says,

then, to my astonishment, recites
from memory a poem by Betjeman,
the one about the red electric train -
a flash of former jauntiness perhaps,
or was it a hint at how he’d end his pain?
‘It’s all changed these days,’ he says.

I suggest a stroll but he declines;
I watch him bear his loneliness back home,
shoulders sagging underneath its weight.
A cloud of bitter helplessness descends  -
I find an empty seat on Richmond Green,
and feel the cold rain wet upon my face.

II.   Catching the Fast Train

You wait at the platform edge in the empty station;
steel glints in the morning sun after early rain.
A late commuter scans his phone with concentration,
not seeing as you climb down on the track to face the train.

It wasn’t a scheduled stop, but it stopped for you,
the 10.13 through-train to Waterloo.
They brought me your shattered glasses and your watch,
dropped in your haste to reach your destination.


III.  East Neuk

We named a stone for him in Sallies Quad,
a graven flagstone for a broken heart
where he stole other hearts in happier days.

Peering through drifting haar on West Sands
I see him in his red gown, smiling,
but now the mist has lifted and he’s gone.

I’ll stop awhile, remembering...fish and chips
on a harbour wall, those winding East Neuk roads
with their snatched glimpses of the North Sea.