I picked up your book the other day and wanted to tell you how much I am enjoying it.
Though it is a year since I saw you (how did that happen?), I can still see you reading from it, the room packed and expectant, and hear again the wobble of your voice in poems about the dead, friends who are not coming back though you seem to see them regularly.
Half way through I came to and realised I was standing next to your editor, the picture of contented pride and suddenly moved as I was to see you picturing Roy as you read ‘Volunteers’. Next morning at breakfast he told me you kept delaying the manuscript because it wasn’t right. Or maybe you told me that in the queue for Ellen Doré Watson. Or maybe I just made it up. In any case, it was worth it, the wait, because it is perfect.
Something I hadn’t noticed a year ago wolfing it down on getting home -is how short they are. Not out-of-breath short. Just short. Time-running-out short. Look-at-that-it’s-amazing! short.
This-may-never-come-again short. Your strengths, getting stronger, more moving. If that were possible.
Which it obviously is because there you are and life and love on every page lovingly -and transparently- recorded for us and all time, the living and the dead cheek by jowl, all as it were equal and alive in the same room conversing with each other. A Scots Pine. A bayonet. A chopping board. That bike. Amazing. Simply amazing. Thank you.
Remembering this I remember too spending long moments just looking at you listening to poets in your beret, head cocked to one side, one hand cupping your elbow, fingers and thumb of your free hand scrunched round your chin rather like a skipper in the slips pondering his field settings between balls. How still you were. And how present, as if aware only of the reader and her poem. And I thought: how many times has he done this, yet still he comes back for more, though he must have seen it all?
Later that day I spied you sharing sandwiches with your family away from the crowd, still in your beret, the look of sheer joy on your face as you discovered what was inside the Tupperware box.
And even now my life is becoming a Michael Laskey poem. A disused bungalow is being demolished behind the house, revealing views of the Cathedral I’ve not seen before. Also a child’s long-forgotten tree house at the back of the now-enormous plot. Bev coming in saying lovely weather when it’s not.
A year later I’ve finally got round to reading your inscription in my book. My friend. That’s it. I whisper back across the miles my hero, my mentor. O Captain! My Captain! (Words I know because of Mark Doty, because of you, because of Roy.) And can already hear you spluttering with considerable Anglo-Saxon relish to please shut up, Anthony! Which I will but not before
If I didn’t say it before, thank you. My friend.
Weighing the Present (Smith/Doorstop, 2014)