Martin Domleo

The Burton Years

                        They knew Old Bill at the Red Rose Social
                        As the bloke who arrived at seven of a night
                        In his perennial flat cap,
                        Tall, with a hand on the doorís upright,
                        Black-suited wispiness stooping slightly,
                        Two bony fingers supporting a quiet fag. 

                        Years ago, his cigarettes glowed brightly,
                        Earning him the name of Terminator
                        But he rarely inhales these days (and the
                        Tinder that once turned so quickly to red
                        On his knuckles had long since gone to earth).
                        At eighty-and-a-half, Billís thin right arm 

                        Was the steadiest part of him, as steady
                        As a Newcomen beam. That practised lever
                        Was for cocking pints. A sage on racing tips
                        Picked from the Sun and Mirror, Bill more than
                        Held his own with four furrowed and whiskered
                        Ex-brewers twenty years his junior. 

                        Around nine of a night he would slip away
                        Two quarts heavier, and walk steadily
                        And mindfully across the road to his crumbling
                        End-of-terrace more shack than house,
                        And relieve himself as best he could
                        In his cold privy Ė a half-mortared windsock 

                        Some part-time jobber had tacked to the kitchen
                        Between bouts of drinking and flatulent sleep.
                        At least this abutment was more accessible
                        Than the defunct Victorian dumping heap
                        At the end of his garden strip, sinking
                        Into piles of bottles, cans, planks, old bricks. 

                        Bill left for good, just as quietly, without fuss
                        In his chair in front of his portable
As the lottery balls lifted and danced.
                        The set was still flickering a ghostly light
                        When they found him, the smell of his last fag
                        Mingling with burnt carpet, hot plastic, stale beer. 

                        Although he bragged a little, he never won much.
                        Once he made twenty quid, gave forty away.
                        Always he bought the first clutch of the night
                        Before settling into side shadow, shunning
                        Centre stage, biding time as a good sage ought.
                        The crematorium was crowded out.