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.