My Grandfather at the Pool (1988)

Glyn Maxwell

Oxford English Dictionary (OED) Links Off

In memory of James Maxwell, 1895-1980

This photo I know best of him is him
With pals of his about to take a swim,

Forming a line with four of them, so five
All told one afternoon, about to dive:

Merseysiders, grinning and wire-thin,
Still balanced, not too late to not go in,

Or feint to but then teeter on a whim.
The only one who turned away is him,

About to live the trenches and survive,
Alone, as luck would have it, of the five.

Four gazing at us levelly, one not.
Another pal decided on this shot,

Looked down into the box and said I say
And only James looked up and then away.

I narrow my own eyes until they blur.
In a blue sneeze of a cornfield near Flers

In 1969, he went Near here

It happened and he didn’t say it twice.
It’s summer and the pool will be like ice.

Five pals in Liverpool about to swim.
The only one who looks away is him.

The other four look steadily across
The water and the joke they share to us.

Wholly and coldly gone, they meet our eyes
Like stars the eye is told are there and tries

To see – all pity flashes back from there,
Till I too am the unnamed unaware

And things are stacked ahead of me so vast
I sun myself in shadows that they cast:

Things I dreamed but never dreamed were there,
But are and may by now be everywhere,

When you’re what turns the page or looks away.
When I’m what disappears into my day.