A Century On

Commuting days until retirement: 91

In this New Year a certain possession which has lain in my sock drawer for quite a while will reach the age of a hundred years. It is an heirloom of sorts, given to me by my grandfather – who also made a brief appearance in an earlier post. To mark the occasion I have dusted down and revised a poem I wrote about this item a few years ago.


Nineteen Fifteen

Your gift still nestles in my drawer,
its long stout shoulder strap tangled
in the laundered wool and cotton –
five decades, now, beyond your time.

Some days I halt my morning rush,
forget the clock, pause, handle the case;
read the faded ballpoint on leather;
remembering how you wrote my name,

settled in your usual green armchair
as dusk came down, one October Sunday.
I ease it from its neat, stitched holder,
this solid, purposeful bequest:

Field compass, one; standard issue;
officers, for the use of; stamped
with a government broad arrow
and the date of manufacture.

A century on it works, as then.
I squint, as you did, through the sight,
take bearings on a garden tree unobscured
by battle smoke, try to imagine scenes

of which you never spoke. I only knew
the grandpa who did tricks with coins,
went on all fours, played horses,
rolled trousers when we paddled in the sea.

True, there was that faint, framed bedroom photo:
uniformed, an unfamiliar moustache,
no glasses and unwhitened hair;
the smile that told me it was you.

So why this memento, solemnly passed on?
Did you intend, perhaps, that finding bearings
of my own, I should eventually turn and look –
see the oblique heading that your life once took?


1915 Army Compass

Playing horses