Old Maps, Wise Things
In the nursing home, he’s jollied along by saucy Katies
but he’s dreaming half his time, his smile turning
to maps and days and tropics of his own.
The Council School, before the war,
meant strictures and the stick. Yet he, sometimes,
at eight years old, would wander off. We never quite
knew where, but somebody said they’d seen him
at the station, watching the upline trains go out.
In the end even the harridans let him be.
No caning any more, just, The wanderer’s returned.
Wartime, we were teenage and the bombs were falling
not too far away, that red glow at Pembroke Dock
at night. So he’d be in, but in that family, nine of them,
his sister said he’d sit aside, in all the noise and radio,
and write in a big notebook, drafts and charts and sketches,
a book he called Old Maps and Wise Things.
He got to Cardiff University, got a fair degree, I think.
But the girl Jane from Johnston, in his history class,
said he’d sometimes dream through a lecture, sketching
tropical birds and plants, and maps of reefs and islands.
He was in business nearly forty years, a stationer, a
He was a good craftsman (those books were beautifully bound)
but now and again he’d go. For the day. Just disappear.
He had a hand-written sign, same one for years,
Archipelagos. Distant worlds.
If you have any thoughts on this poem, Robert Nisbet would
be pleased to hear them.