I meet an old friend in the street.
He’s coked up and I’m drunk.
As we sway and spasm
we ask each other how we are.
Our answers are rehearsed:
we’re good, things are good.
We’re two ambulances
on blue lights and sirens
passing in opposite directions
on a busy highway
but still bothering to wave
to each other.
I walk away ashamed at how I feel
thinking of how sore and scabbed
my grandmother’s legs are
as if nightly she has to kick herself
free from the clutches of death
just to see another day.
Father to the man
Sometimes I wish
I’d a forwarding address
for the person
I used to be,
to write to him
about the apples,
tired of waiting
to be picked, that fall
from the tree I planted.
Apples so red
they’re ashamed or angry
not to have been the chosen ones.
When Dad worked for the Coal Board
he was always our first-footer each year,
giving Mam a little clump of coal
blasted from seams named fondly:
Albert, Victoria, Little Wonder…
Other times, he came home with numbers
which meant the amount of men
dead that day. Once I heard how
he had found some luggage on site
blown far from the Lockerbie Bombing,
one case still perfectly intact, the other
burst open like the traveller had arrived
in a fit of excitement. Then there was
his friend, reversed over by a giant
dumper truck but somehow still alive
and talking, long enough for the medic
to come out, tell him he’d die as soon
as the huge tyres were rolled off him.
Dad held his hand, took his last words,
the engine on, he died at the speed of light.
Since Dad lost that job, he’s struggled,
the mine’s become his mind, coal his
depression, coming up in little bits. He
talks of retirement like the living-dead man
waiting for the pressure to be taken off.
Richie McCaffery lives in Alnwick, Northumberland. He's the author of two poetry pamphlets, including Spinning Plates from HappenStance Press as well as two book-length collections from Nine Arches Press, Cairn and Passport. In 2020 he's to publish a pamphlet with Mariscat Press as well as an edited collection of academic essays on the Scottish poet Sydney Goodsir Smith (Brill / Rodopi).