Felicem diem natalem, Martin

Today is Martin Stewart’s birthday. Martin is a wise friend of mine, a respected leader and compassionate soul who, despite every effort to stem the tide of inevitability, is ageing more rapidly than most. To celebrate, I decided to share a poem with Martin by one of my favourite poets, R.S. Thomas. The poem is titled ‘Ninetieth Birthday’:

You go up the long track
That will take a car, but is best walked
On slow foot, noting the lichen
That writes history on the page
Of the grey rock. Trees are about you
At first, but yield to the green bracken,
The nightjars house: you can hear it spin
On warm evenings; it is still now
In the noonday heat, only the lesser
Voices sound, blue-fly and gnat
And the stream’s whisper. As the road climbs,
You will pause for breath and the far sea’s
Signal will flash, till you turn again
To the steep track, buttressed with cloud.

And there at the top that old woman,
Born almost a century back
In that stone farm, awaits your coming;
Waits for the news of the lost village
She thinks she knows, a place that exists
In her memory only.
You bring her greeting
And praise for having lasted so long
With time’s knife shaving the bone.
Yet no bridge joins her own
World with yours, all you can do
Is lean kindly across the abyss
To hear words that were once wise.

By way of response, Martin, upon finding his reliable plastic turtle ink and quill set stashed away in the bottom of the bedside table and buried behind a half-finished bottle of whisky, a small tin of Revatio capsules (that he keeps forgetting to take), a well-worn copy of Robert Farrar Capon’s Between Noon and Three: Romance, Law, and the Outrage of Grace, a set of broken headphones, and a half-eaten packet of plain crisps, set about scribbling his own poem this afternoon. To be sure, when it comes to poetry Martin’s no Thomas, though he’s a tryer, so cudos to him for that:

There is a bad boy in the church – Goroncy,
a theologian, in his prime.
Should we be asking Mr Baker* to send in a Commission,
or do we leave it alone this time?

If I wasn’t so old, doddery and frail
I’d give Goroncy a little piece of my mind.
But alas ‘little’ is all I have left, and what’s there I’m fast loosing,
(along with my money, my hair, and my time).

So I will suffer in near silence
at the passing of my years
And while envying him that wee dram, (of which I’d like to share!)
I’ll humbly give God thanks, for this life,
and Goroncy’s good cheers.

Then, some hours later, and while innocently enjoying a few moments at the botanical gardens near home here in Dunedin, I was struck by this sign –

– upon which I turned to the kids saying, ‘OK, let’s go feed the ducks’.

A wee dram will be enjoyed tonight in honour of the birthday boy!


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