Keith Armstrong


(for my father)

You picked splinters

with a pin each day

from under blackened fingernails;

shreds of metal

from the shipyard grime,

minute memories of days swept by:

the dusty remnants of a life

spent in the shadow of the sea;

the tears in your shattered eyes

at the end of work.

And your hands were strong,

so sensitive and capable of building boats

and nursing roses;

a kind and gentle man

who never hurt a soul,

the sort of quiet knackered man

who built a nation.

Dad, I watched your ashes float away

down to the ocean bed

and in each splinter

I saw your caring eyes

and gracious smile.

I think of your strong silence every day

and I am full of you,

the waves you scaled,

and all the sleeping Tyneside streets

you taught me to dance my fleeting feet along.

When I fly, you are with me.

I see your fine face

in sun-kissed clouds

and in the gold ring on my finger,

and in the heaving crowd on Saturday,

and in the lung of Grainger Market,

and in the ancient breath

of our own Newcastle.

Keith Armstrong © 2008

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,


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 Bayor 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,


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 © 2008