He was an ordinary man,
He had an ordinary name. He looked
ordinary in almost every way. He lived
at my grandmother’s boarding house,
a place for the down-on-their-luck
and the damaged.
He must have been sixty-something,
skinny-thin and almost hairless,
apart from the missed bristles. He wore
spectacles with bottle-bottom lenses,
made his eyes huge, though he never
seemed to see you.
I can’t remember him ever speaking.
He had this habit that made us laugh.
When he was drunk, which was most nights,
he’d stop somewhere, the pub, the street,
anywhere, random places, and he’d take out
an invisible notebook, and matching pen
and he’d write down notes about the things
he was looking at: walls, lampposts,
pictures, sometimes nothing. Often, nothing.
Full of beer from the same pub,
me and my mate, we’d stand and watch
and take the piss out of him.
Silly old Ernest.
Barmy old Ernest.
The barmaid caught us one night,
gave us a vicious gobful.
Ernest had been in the war, she said.
He’d seen and done things
we could never even imagine.
Had a plate in his head where
some of his brain used to be.
He’d done these things for us,
people like me and my mate,
who had been standing there,
like we were better than him.
I have never felt so small
Stand easy, Ernest.