52 Poems for 2013, 36/52: DEATH OF A TRAINSPOTTER

Douglas Thompson writes,

Here is the 36th poem in my 52-poem sequence (one a week) for 2013, followed by some illumination and reflection:


All your long life you were taking journeys
and in an age of cars and global warming
you imparted to me, perhaps
in some small measure
an unfashionable preference
for public transport.

But it’s all over now
and no more will Europe’s pavements
be worn by your hesitant footsteps
its trams and trolleybuses
photographed and numbered so meticulously.

And back here where you grew up
no longer will these historic streets
be haunted by your crumpled little figure
the world grown strange around you
all glass and steel intruding
cold and futuristic.

We thought you would go on forever
and yet in your ancient house
you left strange signals:
discarded paper, drawers opened
things in hurried disarray.

Less like a dying man
than one going on a special journey:
something more exciting than any of the others,
the best yet, the furthest;
but not in space.
You have moved through the walls it seems,
of existence itself, even.
And although there will be no postcards
or slideshows this time,
the separation does not feel so far.

We never understood
your mysterious love of trains.
But perhaps at last the metaphor is clear:
the moment of suspension, of freedom
of setting out and leaving everything
into the unknown, heroic.

You never found a wife, nor made a family
and so you dressed in your best suit
and lay down in bed to wait
for the last train of all,
folding inside your pocket
a torn letter from Winston Churchill
as if to say not just that you knew your place
in British history, but that you were
one whole defiant volume of it,
its cover worn, and closing gently.


I wrote this poem during my lunch break, sitting on a park bench in Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Park, on a piece of scrap paper from my pocket. It’s about my uncle Neil McKillop, who had died a few days beforehand. (Read more)

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Filed in News, Stories on September 1, 2013