after Seamus Heaney
i.m. Professor Gordon Hamilton-Fairley (1930-1975)

At home that autumn morning
the radio began to blur…
‘a car bomb… no warning
Campden Hill Square
man dead… device set off
by his dog…’ please God
don’t let it be the Prof.

I used to wonder what
he thought of me,
his daughter’s boyfriend
pitching up post-party,
toothbrush stuffed in denims,
squiffy, slurring words.
Yet he was always gracious
although he’d been on wards
all week, staring at death;
or conducting seminars
on lymphomas, leukaemia;
or lowering the blood pressure
of staff at St Bartholomew’s.
I felt as if I’d lost a dad
again—the adult listener
I’d never really had;
a soulful empathiser.

I can see him at their cottage,
light fading as he pokes
a bush to find a guinea pig
and save it from the fox;
nineteen-fifties retro
side-parted auburn hair,
an open face, crooked elbow,
attentive, ready to share
the countdown of his days;
for we had no idea
that he, a cancer specialist,
was fighting cancer too.

‘The Murder of a Life Saver’
the headlines shouted—
the bomb was for a neighbour
delayed from going out.
The dog had sniffed the car.
The windows imploded
in the square; from body parts
they identified his elbow.
I went to Holland Park
and joined the family
delirious with shock
crying, laughing, alternately;
that night the four of them
collapsed to sleep in one bed,
a tangled heap of limbs
like the raft of the Medusa.

The evening of the service
Mum and I met Dad
in his Fleet Street eyrie
a trinity re-glued
for a couple of hours.
Dad was quiet, sheepish,
perhaps all too aware
of being lynchably Irish;
he asked about my tie
and looked a little miffed
when I replied
that it had been the Prof’s.
We headed for St Paul’s,
the sky gunpowder grey,

Dad musing on the war
when bombs were two a penny.
We thought a hundred souls
would come, but thousands
filled the floodlit cupola:
it was as if all London
was in mourning, the dome
rising like a huge balloon
on a myriad candle flames
and breath of hymns.
Afterwards we went home:
Dad to his second wife
me to my single Mum;
the Prof’s four children to a life
without their only Dad.

In the cathedral crypt,
Dear Prof, your plaque
declares in stone that it
matters not how a man dies
but how he lives:

a bomb may vaporise us
but cannot even bruise
the memories of gestures
and acts of love or malice
that stamp us thereafter.
Like placing a device
behind the wheel of a car;
or searching a bush to save
a guinea pig. You cared
for Life, and gave your days
helping others to survive;
and to forgive.