2016 Crabbe Poetry Competition – Third Prize
Adjudicator: Moniza Alvi
Lost at Cadiz
The last time then, edging with a tray into your dark:
the bed and chair, this cell your voyaging has come to.
Bread, porridge,tea same condemned man’s breakfast
every day for how long now? Two years? Three?
And now it’s D-Day for us both. Hello Ted –
letting in the useless light. Manage any sleep?
I set the pillows, ease you up, your navigator’s eyes
still bloodshot, cloudy, struggling for a fix on me.
More nighttime wounds. Table, lampstand overturned.
Scab and scar and bruise a browcut, fresh. Back in
combat, eh? (Groping, compass haywire through
the foggy hours, floor rolling like Atlantic swell,
you’re undermined by neurones now). Aye … you hear
that thunder, son? Flashes like them guns again …
fair shook the bed. Tea pitching in the mug, you wash
the tablets down – though even when trembling calms
you won’t be sailing far, not once sickness, lethargy
kick in wave on wave of Sinemet and Madopar.
The tuning on the radio’s slipped: the shipping news
arrives, recedes. I flush the dregs of night away:
lay out fresh clothes; steer you, groggy to a basin
where you fasten on the taps (your gunwale, haven)
while the water runs. The discipline’s sustained us
for this long – but though I’m ready for tomorrow
(new job, new town, the moving on) today we know
its other purpose. Recall together, as you dress,
the first time that I searched in vain (and then your
explanation, still unchanged) for that elusive vest.
Lord no, you’ll not find that! Las’ one I ‘ad
were on that same damn sweeper. Shot to hell
it was. Torpedoes … bombs. This’d be by ‘eck
let’s think – fortytwo or three, somewheres off Cadiz …
sinking finally into your chair. Right raw today,
or is it me? I find the rug, fit it snug around your knees
then softly back towards the door determined to escape
an exitline. But you’ve seen it coming. Seen through me.
Go careful, son. And don’t be minding … I’ll be grand.
Your stare consumes the shadow where I stand. Goodbye Ted.
Be good. And no more wandering alone. I close the door,
seeing still your eyes and all those broken, burning vessels.