The Nightwatchman

Over his shoulder, I’m watching him chew sarnies
out of grease-proof, at his last place of work,
cracking a pack of Rich Tea. Between one snap
and the next, he follows the beam of his torch, ferreting
to the four corners of the perimeter in search of
something to be suspicious about. Through the drip
and dibble of the canal, he listens to the howl
of black dogs, and to the infiltrators in the distance.

After ten years of summers in the arms of a woman
who talked like Florence Nightingale, he’d returned
red eyed, as he’d left. He was in the company of a man
with a guitar, and about those flamenco days
he had nothing to say – his life, on either side
of that great unknown, as different as the distance
between mandarin and margarine, or the mandolin
on which I love to go a wandering was what he’d play.

He was the Singing Ulysses. Compared to his missus –
my gran who stayed in bed through Christmas
after sour-faced Christmas – his spirit was free and,
of his organs, his imagination the most expansive.
His lungs were strong, though his heart was on a thread.
He folds tortoiseshell specs on the table before him.
His cartoon noggin O-frames my raddled face;
his hair curlicues and Ys atop my greying head.



Philip Foster is a founder member of The Albert Poets in Huddersfield. His first book was Goose Jazz and most recently, The Book of Occupational Hazard was published by Calder Valley Poets.