Keith Armstrong

A Prayer for the Loners

The dejected men,
the lone voices,
slip away
in this seaside rain.
Their words shudder to a standstill
in dismal corners.
Frightened to shout,
they cower
behind quivering faces.
No one listens
to their memories crying.
There seems no point
in this democratic deficit.
For years, they just shuffle along,
hopeless
in their financial innocence.
They do have names
that no lovers pronounce.
They flit between stools,
miss out on gales of laughter.
Who cares for them?
Nobody in Whitley Bay
or canny Shields,
that’s for sure.
These wayside fellows
might as well be in a saddos’ heaven
for all it matters
in the grey world’s backwaters.
Life has bruised them,
dashed them.
Bones flake into the night.
I feel like handing them all loud hailers
to release
their oppressed passion,
to move them
to scream
red murder at their leaders -
those they never voted for;
those who think they’re something,
some thing special,
grand.
For, in the end,
I am on the side of these stooped lamenters,
the lonely old boys with a grievance
about caring
and the uncaring;
about power,
and how switched off
this government is
from the isolated,
from the agitated,
from the trembling,
the disenfranchised
drinkers of sadness.

Keith Armstrong © 2015

For Edward Elliot of Earsdon (1800-1867)

(Stonemason and poet responsible for the Hartley Pit Disaster memorial in Earsdon churchyard)

“IN THE MIDST OF LIFE WE ARE IN DEATH.”

Chip chip chip,
the rain sinks
into Ned Elliot’s shoulders
as his hands
carve the dead names
into the slab.
The tragedy
weighs down his spirit,
renders him thirsty
for the light.
Chip chip chip,
you breathe the name of Thomas Coal
aged thirty seven,
recite the deaths of boys
as young as ten.
You chisel
through the disastrous list,
the litany of lost dreams.
It is such a burden,
the flood of widows’ tears
gushing through
the village,
rendering the churchyard
a swamp of hurt.

This is true
community spirit,
a man who lived
to mark the dead
in stone,
making a living
by honouring others.
Your own name
is ingrained in Earsdon,
ringing
down the years
a sacrifice
from the quarry
of suffering,
one of your
dialect poems
still coursing
in us.

“FOR WHATSOEVER A MAN SOWETH,
THAT SHALL HE ALSO REAP.”

Keith Armstrong © 2015