By Ian McDonald
The Edge of Night
Watchman by the seawall koker
twenty years I met him on my walks
seawind and sunset I see recalling him.
He smoked his curly pipe, we talked
fireflies sparking in the low, protected fields.
I often thought what a life he’s lived
but what a life is any life that’s lived.
He was old when he began this job
guardian of the tidal gates of town.
Got away from a rum-soaked father’s home
wandered far to other lonely lands
and home again he never built a home
or had one woman or concerned himself with God
“Ah live from then to now an’ don’ remember how.”
Eyes far away as stars beyond our counting
an old man stranded on the edge of night.
Long ago he was a forest guide
went with Museum teams in Essequibo
and made a name for his strange collections.
One day he brought for their inspection
a black and shiny scorpion whose helmet-head was gold
They honoured him, he was named discoverer
the keepsake plaque engraved in Latin script.
I tell him it is beautifully done
he gestures, the sea in tumult rises at our feet.
Bone-trip, he called it, his brutal name
for dying: “The bone-trip is always hard.”
I remember his face lit by fire,
cracked into a thousand creases
as he bent over, hardening nails:
he repaired boots for working men in Gentle Street.
One day his smiling partner wasn’t there.
“Well, bruds gone to make his bone-trip now.”
Wiped his sweaty face with rag,
went on nailing the rough, strong boots.
Cruel, I remember thinking, fifty years ago.
And it is now, my God, now, it is now.
Ian McDonald was born in Trinidad and has spent most of his life in Guyana. He is the author of The Humming-Bird Tree and several poetry collections, and the editor of the literary journal Kyk-Over-Al. His Selected Poems were published in 2008.