More New McGonnagal


You had a natural grace that I lacked when we were teenagers,

Your physical habit not so much muscly as lean, braver

Than mine, quick, sure and rhythmic, as in your dancing

While I was clumpy. Even when you were chancing

Your arm with lassies, they trusted your straightforwardness.

Do you remember the spot by the Calder where the river pressed

Between two mighty rocks 15 feet high, 6 feet apart at the top? That’s

Where you challenged me to jump across. I’d have turned you down flat

Had it been us alone but there was a crowd to shame me,

So I said,”You go first” looking down at the torrent that could maim me,

And you did, leaping out to totter on the far edge, steady

Yourself, and grin back at me. “No thanks,” I said, “I’m not ready

To die today,” accepting defeat, although at other times I

Was drawn to share your daft and dangerous gallantry.


Now you walk with difficulty and your short-term memory

Is nil. You recognise me but the recognition is temporary

And must be re-enforced with stories from the past. Yet our joy

In one another is not dimmed and the laughter of boys

Flickers on old faces. I worry that maybe there’s not much left

Of you as you struggle to make words work, you who were as deft

With words as with music. Then you smile at your wife, and I know

Behind the damage of disease your soul is still complete. Like the slow

Movement of Beethoven’s Quartet 135, where the lovely first

Melody develops then degenerates into broken bursts

Of harmony portending closure; but now unmistakably the cello

Lays down the tune in the bass, pristine and true, its mellow

Timbre affirms,”It’s me.”

                                            Old friend, we’re both near

The last river and I know if you go first, you’ll leap over

With as much pizzaz as at the Calder and backwards grin with pride

Encouraging me to jump in the hope that there is another side.















1 Comment

  1. Beautiful Ode to a friend. Very moving depiction of his diminished capacities, but your bond as strong and loving as ever. I loved your use of Op. 135 to illustrate those moments when your friend tells you “It’s me” in whatever way he can do it. Truly beautiful. It inspired me to take out a recording of Op. 135 and listen to that movement. You said it perfectly.


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