To my joy, it won the Alpha Poets Prize and I received a three-figure sum in prize money.
More importantly, this early success established me, a newcomer to the island, as part of the local arts scene, where I have remained, to a greater or lesser extent, ever since.
The Hidden Traveller proved to be one of my most popular poems and many people still refer to it with fondness.
It’s very different from the type of material I write now, but I still regard it as a strong poem and am happy to reprint it for my fellow-writer, Chris Hudson.
THE HIDDEN TRAVELLER
the over-furnished room, cold as a cave,
where they had laid him
between the aspidistra and a spotted mirror;
the sunbeams, slanting by the window, shoaled with dust;
the silent street beyond, devoid of passers-by.
Immaculate in laundered shirt and
suit so rarely worn in life; in death he looked
more like a character from a story than himself.
myself dressed in a suit that day;
the parlour’s silence broken only
by the ticking of a clock;
the sense of unreality, of ritual without feeling;
an odour of chrysanthemums.
I remember him
alive and huge and I so small,
watching geese fly
high over wetlands blurred with morning mist,
our upturned faces wet with perfect joy;
the swing he built me in the secret clearing
in the green-wood;
his hearty laughter booming in the treetops.
the warm, familiar smell of him;
his callused, gentle fists
thrusting the timber swing-seat
higher, ever higher.
I remember still,
though years have crowded in between then and now,
the reckless humour ever-dancing in his eyes,
blue as songbirds' eggs;
the sweetness of the lulling tune he hummed at ending day
as, sleepily, I rode his shoulders home to bed.
Each passing generation
prints its image on the next: an echo of the parent
in each gesture of the child.
So his essential being rides my adult shoulders now,
as I transport his spirit towards another century.
We dress ourselves unknowingly
in garments of departed love, in remnants
of lost voices or half-remembered smiles.
The length of stride, a turn of phrase
betrays the other, hidden traveller in our skin.
Preserve in me
the things that once I loved in him.