for Hamish (1957-2022)
While his white suit was not made-to-measure, nothing he wore appeared off-the-peg for long. He cocked his matching hat; it was time to take the stage again. When he crossed the bar, each step sticking slightly, his body was really testing the air: would there be enough freshness to let him push through the closing set in good voice? His face crumples, suddenly he is snagging his jersey repeatedly on a kindergarten’s wire mesh fence, there are small cloud trails patterning the front and the left sleeve. His Mum will tell him off, but she is not there.
Although it’s Friday, so most of them can doze tomorrow, some punters have already left. Their empty bottles are collected from unstable tables by a more unstable brunette, she’s the Pre-Raphaelite type he used to fall for. He hears the refrain from a boy’s own story read in his bedroom nearly sixty years ago: Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum! His hat, it belongs to Long John Silver. Glancing at the giant TV near His & Hers, he sees Coronation Street on his parents’ black-and-white set; their wedding present, twin paisley rocking chairs nod to him. God, if the dead could deliver a lecture it would be packed.
He never expected to be that good looking, to be remembered, especially behind a drum-kit – maybe a ukulele? But it was the other-worldly smile that made him appear impossibly present to the opposite sex. Soon enough he learnt feelings, even real ones with lingerie, don’t help without timing. After whatever-that-was a fan might wipe herself in the dark her father left her. When the light arrives it is typically sharp as a mother studying the sheets.
Sometimes, like fifteen minutes ago, he can summon up the proverbial girl-next-door and her eyes shadow his body until little bits of nowhere make him, take him over. His song becomes hers before an audience of almost strangers. There’s the pressure to never stop, not for the world to come.
Simultaneously, in New York’s Strawberry Fields, his sometime Muse forgets her purple vinyl jacket – it will be lost under an avalanche of larch needles without a sound. Already her silence is a kind of white noise that lies like snow on the road not taken – although nothing is one kind of thing he understands as he opens his mouth, knowing the last time could be right now.
David Howard is the author of Rāwaho: the Completed Poems (Cold Hub Press, 2022) and the editor of A Place To Go On From: the Collected Poems of Iain Lonie (Otago University Press, 2015). His personal website is: www.davidhowardpoet.com