A Drink in the New Piazza

Ruth Padel

In Memoriam Gerry Macnamara

I

They were switching on headlights
through A40 dusk, despite
the blaze from Mister Lighting

and a glow-worm trek of aeroplane
through the scuffed cloud:
a written line, a last letter

running left to right
of the flyover
till it smudged out in coughs.

The little source drawing south,
away from its end: that soft
broken run of cotton commas.

II

Driving west,
I took your sea-grass stairs
with me. As if,

if I kept them accurate
you wouldn’t go. Perivale.
Wycombe. ‘Nearly New Cars’.

On all of them I laid
roan tiles from your kitchen
with its open garden door,

a house with a white inside
and a green-gray empty shirt
on the floor

of a bathroom tessellated blue,
a master-design in Ming
for you – who knew the entire score

of The Sound of Music
and didn’t want to be cremated
because it just might hurt.

Who’d asked me to your funeral
before you died.
To sing.

III

By some miracle you pulled
my breath, choked in London flu
as well as tears, did soar

up the ribs of St Xavier, more
or less as it was meant to do,
beyond where you were lying,

not on the sofa of
your late-night den
with its driftwood press

and Allegro, Allegro, Largo,
in a box that had not a thing
to do with you.

IV

The earth bit was worst
and you’d thought of that too
when you vetoed Dido’s Lament

(‘Too sad’). The thud of lilies
that could only be the thud
of lilies, nothing else –

or the first shot of Dr Zhivago.
The mound of pinkish clay
against those tungsten hills,

and two hefty men
walking away from it,
back to HQ

after a good half-day,
swinging from post-sacramental torsos
the straps that lowered you.

V

But Gerry, the way you held
everyone, all two
or three hundred, close all day!

The way you went
on All Saints Eve, telling everyone
through the mobile phone

it was all right, you were OK,
it was like a new city, something of Rome
but narrower. You could half-see

the mazy streets. As if you’d registered
at twilight
and were on the brink

of going out,
checking your jeans carefully
for change – ducat, piastre,

rouble – and passport,
Visacard, your hotel key;
for a drink in the new piazza.