Tribute to a lost acquaintance

Painting by Cézanne

Mamadou has gone, his place beneath the bridge a silent memorial now. The street sweepers left his things neatly piled for almost a month out of respect. Now all is gone except the notice, Avis de décès, pasted on the stone pier above the place where he slept. His face, kindly, bearded, stares out from the past, his eyes full of sadness. As always, even when he laughed.
In the heat of his last night, he must have watched the fitful glitter of the stars and sifted the heavy air for scents of home. But not a breath of wind stirred the drooping alder leaves that night. Not a drop of tropical rain pattered on the sun-parched earth.
Those fragile sensations, memories, sights and sounds, flesh and blood, left behind, are cut adrift. The link is broken. No exotic yearnings stir the city dust, no murmurings of Mandinka weave their melody among the trilling of the birds. Fly, Mamadou. Take the path you searched for among the stars. Find the peace you longed for, in a kinder world than this.

Ta fille.

On the street

She’s there again
The young woman
Lying on the step
Her face looks red and puffy
Despite the tan colour of her skin.
Beer cans roll in the gutter,
And her rucked up sleeve reveals
A host of track marks on her arms.
But her clothes are good
And when she speaks
It isn’t in a helpless babble.
There is a hardness to her
As though she’s pressed the self-destruct
And I wonder what he did to her
That makes her care for nothing
But oblivion.


The old man and the river



The old man sleeps rough

and stands for hours watching

the play of light and half-light

on the ripple-patterned water.

Banks of leaves of red and gold

drift crisp and dry against his shoes

as he stands to watch beneath the clouds

the ripples in the river.


Along the bank the squabbling gulls

dip and dive to snatch at bits of bread.

Their noisy brilliance sleek and white

hangs bright against the grey of rainy skies

a short-lived dance that curtseys to the wind

while the dimpling water ripples on and on.


Seasons change and chill winds blow

and sunlight’s pale as ice and glacier-cold.

Still he stands among the leaves

to watch the endless river pass

with wind-drawn patterns on its skin

and narrow shadows cast by drifting birds.


Above his head beyond the blue

in the silent darkness filled with stars

the great wheel turns and turns and turns,

rolling from sky to unseen sky

with rivers of comets in its wake.

He stands and watches time flow by

his feet the pivot of the universe.