Martin Robertson

Now and Then

For Cecil
Tankas and haikus


They burned drowned Shelley

on the beach.  We on your beach

raised you a bonfire

to warm us, be you, burn off

the chill crematorium.

To one each turns, as

to a natural centre.

Now my centre’s gone.

I am haunted by

a thought: might it have been meant?

I do not think so.

Too much surely to hold you.

But if it were, what courage.

I am old, and as

I failed you, so can only

fail to take your place.

Yes, but must still be something

more than myself, will be, can.

Thorpe white in the sun

against the black earth; lost in

the storm now; now here

too the sleet-wind darkens down.

Without you your winter shore.

Wind is a sword of

ice, under wild colours in

sun-touched or dark cloud.

A rare night.  Beach deep

in snow.  A ceaseless gale that

strips it.  Night for you.


Warm summer cycle

ride.  Home, in the garden found

you dying.  Today,

bitter beautiful winter

cycling, past the hospital.

Silver spoon in the

bathroom.  My outrage is as

yours.  Some things slip though.

Change, knowingly made, all right.

Not, that’s not so good.

Steve Davis knocked out

of the semi-final.  You

would have liked that, though

Hurricane Higgins would have

pleased you better as the winner.

Things you only just

missed.  Sophie of course, and Tom’s

throwaway, that in

five years perhaps, working at

home, “We’d start a family”.

After grassed acres,

here you chose stone to raise

your lovely garden round.

Did you suffer much?

Would to know the answer help?

Not you.  Us perhaps.

Walking on the white

slippery track, face smarting

in the evening frost

—this monochrome stillness looks

like death but is something else.

Venus is burning

big and low, yellow through the

haze which hides the rest.

A young man in the

street was humming, whistling not

very tunefully

a tune, familiar…  Then I

realized:  Hyperactive.

I don’t believe in

any afterlife, so must

accept that in death

all failures, like all losses

are irrecoverable.

On the radio

Schubert’s Shepherd on the Rocks.

For me, you.  For you,

Stephen.  I wish I thought you

were listening together.

Always returns the

image of your face as mask,

closed eyes swollen.

The North

Snow under grey cloud.

Monochrome world from Cambridge

to the Border.  Or

from here to eternity.

The train moves.  Nothing changes.

What in this city

do we share?  Best, Dominick

and the children who

had no fares but an old hat

he bought, wore to a première.

Clear, bright, very cold.

A hard landscape, beautiful

but hard.  Very cold.

Why should a change of

date in our artificial

calendar seem so

significant?  ’84

you were in, not ’85.

Children (bright-coloured

mufflings against a white snow

slope) tobogganing.


Can they be sloughed in the new

relation? (live—dead).

In car, bus, train I

want the journey not to end

even when the end

is wanted.  I didn’t, I

suppose, want to leave the womb.

Moving across the snow

towards the sun through bright mist.

There is nothing else.

Luckily I am

too often too silly to

be a wise old man.


That New Yorker joke:  “My wife

does understand me.”

I failed you living

and what I do can’t help you

dead.  But it might help them

a little who loved you, love

you, love me, love both of us.

You were there, and I

hugged you.  You didn’t mind.  Death

had happened, but was

release from work, and that was

(you said) relief.  We made plans.

You felt I had failed you

profoundly.  I don’t forget.

But must not let that

blot out what were surely our

successes, our happiness.

Too much about me.

But I think about you more

and better.  Light and

warmth that irradiated

us.  Bonfire on the night beach.