Poem #36/52

Here is the 36th poem in my 52-poem sequence (one a week) for 2013, followed by some illumination and reflection:


All your long life you were taking journeysthe-anxious-journey-de chirico
and in an age of cars and global warming
you imparted to me, perhaps
in some small measure
an unfashionable preference
for public transport.

But it’s all over now
and no more will Europe’s pavements
be worn by your hesitant footsteps
its trams and trolleybuses
photographed and numbered so meticulously.

And back here where you grew up
no longer will these historic streets
be haunted by your crumpled little figure
the world grown strange around you
all glass and steel intruding
cold and futuristic.

We thought you would go on forever
and yet in your ancient house
you left strange signals:
discarded paper, drawers opened
things in hurried disarray.

Less like a dying man
than one going on a special journey:
something more exciting than any of the others,
the best yet, the furthest;
but not in space.
You have moved through the walls it seems,
of existence itself, even.
And although there will be no postcards
or slideshows this time,
the separation does not feel so far.

We never understood paul-delvaux street-of-trams
your mysterious love of trains.
But perhaps at last the metaphor is clear:
the moment of suspension, of freedom
of setting out and leaving everything
into the unknown, heroic.

You never found a wife, nor made a family
and so you dressed in your best suit
and lay down in bed to wait
for the last train of all,
folding inside your pocket
a torn letter from Winston Churchill
as if to say not just that you knew your place
in British history, but that you were
one whole defiant volume of it,
its cover worn, and closing gently.


I wrote this poem during my lunch break, sitting on a park bench in Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Park, on a piece of scrap paper from my pocket. It’s about my uncle Neil McKillop, who had died a few days beforehand. We hadn’t been especially close, and yet I felt the exact moment of his death (a few blocks away) quite acutely, although at the time I didn’t know what the feeling meant. For several days, I felt as if he was looking out through my eyes. I could say more on this sort of subject, but we live in a society where such experiences are no longer openly talked about, even though from my conversations over the years I’ve discovered that many people have felt similar things. This is I believe what Jung meant when he said “I don’t believe, I know”. We feel certain things, and even if we lack the current scientific explanations to back them up, we should be honest enough not to dismiss them out of embarrassment.

What the poem says is true. Neil did have a signed letter from Churchill in his pocket when he died, which he had never discussed in life, so its meaning remains something of a mystery. My brother Ally Thompson and I have written an entire surreal collage novel inspired by Uncle Neil and his interest in trains, but more of that some other time perhaps.

In the meantime, I have inserted above two paintings which capture the atmosphere and mystery of trains: “The Anxious Journey” by Georgio de Chirico and “The Street Of Trams” by Paul Delvaux.

This entry was posted in 52 Poem Sequence, Art, Poetry, Psychology, Short Stories. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Poem #36/52

  1. Beautiful work. Thank you. If you ever feel that any of my work would sum up or connect with one of your poems, by all means use it, just let me know so that I can see them both together. Looking forward to reading future posts. Andrew

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