(for Jim Ducker)
The growth plundered your voice,
robbing it of tone; you spoke
in well-articulated whispers, inhaling
through that tube thing in your throat.
You shone, in spite of it all.
No self-pity, even near the end,
after years of speaking to us
in breaths the way you did –
yet you had a voice, old friend.
Always the bright guy at the bar,
you brought a twinkle
even to a whisper; a susurrus of wit
would penetrate the tedious tones
of those for whom EastEnders
and the latest from The X Factor
provided fodder for barroom babble.
You fielded tales of cricket, too –
all silly mid-off to me –
with expertise and passion:
stories of Lord’s, the Oval,
Old Trafford, Bramall Lane,
local league at the village ground,
which gave hours of English pleasure
and where that weary cliché
“the sound of willow on leather”
punctuated dreamy afternoons.
Struggling to be heard but stubbornly
winning with smiles and quips,
you were never less than sparky
with your crackling one-liners
and the percussion of your Good Advice.
Quite suddenly you died;
thirteen months ago you died.
You would not wish me to reach
for a soppy synonym.
You did not pass away:
you died, you died, you died.
I handled your affairs –
so long ago, it seems;
but time and distance are
such fragile things, and grief
is no respecter of them:
whisper its name
and it will return to you.