Death of a Naturalist

The obits fill the papers for a week. Heaney
is Dead. Disinherited – we dumbly stare,
as if a shaded bulb had failed at the far end of a passage.
It’s Dover Beach and  anarchy is briefly born –
to mix it with the metaphors and references.
We all share touches from the man we never knew
but may have met – a moment on the damascene
when his Irish voice speaks calmly from the fire.

So here is mine. With Digging firmly in our thoughts,
it came as a surprise  he crossed the Irish Sea
to Birkenhead with no pen in his bag.
His reading done, we faithfully produced our copies
to be signed. Deficient of a book, I had
the pen the time required. Now dry, it nestles
in its drawer. It’s 40 years since it was called
to rescue a poet with no pen – a man
with confidence that nothing on that day be needed
to be writ down. So, Parker Vector Rollerball,
you took the place of spade, and left his mark
upon two dozen pages. I would have happily
allowed him pocket it and disappear.
An honest Ulsterman, he gave it back again.

Limbo Flight

for Michael Morley

I learnt the news by email on a mobile phone –
and now I’m in the air, and far above the words
your ex-wife said in church, you may be gone.
Jevington’s the Ward you’re on – the place

my mother went before they said her mind
was out to grass, so somewhere in the EDG you too
are paused between being here and not.
A bed, a label round your wrist, and tubes

running everything, in and out like breath.
The scent of clinical disinterest and dressings,
and people waiting to be gone.
So who can save you now? Timothy Winters?

Gavin Maxwell? HG Wells? Can Rhyme
or Reason keep that lamp alight?
Recall the grey Novembers in Room 1 with us –
Ridouts banished, and Readers silently in view.

And all those comments in your envied hand,
beneath our own, that blessed, or struggled
to be kind – poised, artful, middle class
– to sum or stem the chaos scratched from every

Osmiroid you made us buy and use.
Each small remembered thing must call
you from oblivion, so let that knowledge
go to battle on your part – give you protection

from the Will you told us Hardy had believed
held everything to its Immanent ends.
Ignore the ice, the smeering worm that slimes
the glass. Keep close all memories that structure

up that life, your past – even the Nazi bomb
that killed your mum when safe in hospital,
the student minds that struggled to outfool you
over Lear, the plays that gathered glory

in the brightness of your stage. You gave
us leave to speak, to act, and chance to write
with no restraint – unlike so many tinpot
sirs, you let us in, became our friend,

and shared thoughts, laughter, and your life.
I’m close to God at 20,000 feet so hear
this almost prayer. Like flight of planes defies
the life of gravity, I pray you can delay

the pull of what must come when all our engines
stop. Let this be the lesson, then. In us you live.
Live on some place we may together go.
And write this final line yourself, when well.

Library Access

Journey into Space

It is the reading room, locality is everything.
The shelves stack up with Northumbrian essentials –
no quoin or corner unincluded, no coal-faced,
coped-with tragedy. Deeds, decisions, votes
and attitudes; careful cuttings; local plants,
vanished yards and ships, and bound editions
of the Tyne Tees TV Times. Minutes
thinned from hours, or letters into words,
events that gripped then fell away like wasted
grain. Lost dreadnoughts, councils, mothers, every
mother’s son – the yesterdays that go unnoticed
here all gather space and wait. For what?
These past times, people and their papers,
might vanish into air – scanned in, compressed,
become alive in an electric dark that everyone
can share – or continue to degrade to dust,
an irritation in the throat, the reddened eye:
the stuff, the dreams, all cleared or wiped away.

The Secret Agents

A thin silence comes from all parts of the planet,
The agents in the reading room have settled to their tasks.
Laptops reflect their lenses, anonymously.
They sit, digesting consequential lines of code,
the only voice, the library lift, whose empty words
soliloquise the way below. Although surrounded,
their needs are not an open book – it’s their
screens that net the things they seem to seek
– an article with thrilling patterns of blood gasses,
some dead-end jobs; a script; a boxing
film with subtitles in Greek: but secretly, beneath
the hiss of circulating air, the chirp of mice,
the bossy chat of nagging keys on boards,
a dozen essays, letters, poems, maybe
get composed. A parka-ed man, grey beard,
awaits the lift’s return, and looks around
at faces that recompose their blank unyielding
stares. The aircon clears away the dust –
the faint decay of paper, and the death of cells.

Newcastle City Library
January 2013