Year on year, as Advent fell
he came, unfailing, bustling
in from the old forest gate
bundled against the arctic pinch
threadbare seaman’s greatcoat
buttonless, cinched with bailer twine
unofficial surveyor, mapping a crooked
pilgrimage from parish to parish
no shrine, no objective, just
an unsaid impulse to move on.
The spore stained lych gate’s ruddy
stonework his shelter, he lay
sleeping his punctured sleep of vivid
concussions tearing the ocean horizon
fractured ships in stark silhouette
while hushed ranks of yew
and sculpted seraphs stood by
unmoved by his nocturnal torment.
At Eucharist, the organ’s thunder seemed
to soothe, banish the imps that beset
that spirit rent like a merchantman’s hull
sluicing through the breach, bathing
his weary, battle-crippled heart.
His song, a shapeless, dissonant descant
Babel shout, joyful howl, rose
on thermals of bitter myrrh
soaring to the gilded chancel’s vault.
Then one year we missed him
and then the next, until one day
we learned his soul, in some other
icebound boneyard, had quit the fight
to keep the terror of that boiling
Atlantic abyssal ever at his back.