Which reminds me. He appeared at noon, asking for water. He’d walked from town after losing his job, leaving me a note for his wife and his brother and locking his dog in the coal bunker. We made him a bed and he slept till Monday. A week went by and he hung up his coat. Then a month, and not a stroke of work, a word of thanks, a farthing of rent or a sign of him leaving. One evening he mentioned a recipe for smooth, seedless gooseberry sorbet but by then I was tired of him: taking pocket money from my boy at cards, sucking up to my wife and on his last night sizing up my daughter. He was smoking my pipe as we stirred his supper. Where does the hand become the wrist? Where does the neck become the shoulder? The watershed and then the weight, whatever turns up and tips us over that razor’s edge between something and nothing, between one and the other. I could have told him this but didn't bother. We ran him a bath and held him under, dried him off and dressed him and loaded him into the back of the pick-up. Then we drove without headlights to the county boundary, dropped the tailgate, and after my boy had been through his pockets we dragged him like a mattress across the meadow and on the count of four threw him over the border. This is not general knowledge, except in gooseberry season, which reminds me, and at the table I have been known to raise an eyebrow, or scoop the sorbet into five equal portions, for the hell of it. I mention this for a good reason.
In later life I retired from poetry,
ploughed the profits
into a family restaurant
in the town of Holzminden, in lower Saxony.
It was small and traditional:
dark wood panelling, deer antlers,
linen tablecloths and red candles,
one beer tap on the bar
and a dish of the day, usually
Bauernschnitzel. Weekends were busy,
pensioners wanting the set meal, though
year on year takings were falling.
Some nights the old gang came in –
Jackie, Max, Lavinia,
Mike not looking at all himself,
and I’d close the kitchen,
hang up my striped apron,
take a bottle of peach schnapps
from the top shelf and say,
“Mind if I join you?”
“Are we dead yet?” someone would ask.
Then with a plastic toothpick
I’d draw blood from my little finger
to prove we were still among the living.
From the veranda we’d breathe new scents
from the perfume distillery over the river,
or watch the skyline
for the nuclear twilight.