I  
 
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.  
 
 
                  II  
 
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.’
 
 
                  III  
 
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.

Elegy

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