Second poem in the sequence of character sketches I’m working on at the moment.


I think about him you know
out there
in the dark
and the vapours.

He seems twitchy
and afraid
and his cart smells.

I think it’s amazing actually
that they pay someone to do his job –
to sweep the towpath at night.

He has a transistor radio
a small black tinny-sounding one
gaffertaped to the edge of his cart.
And a little torch.
And small darting eyes.

He’s slight of build.
Average height.

I say he seems afraid –
he seemed afraid of us.
We were drunk and it was late
and there are drunks
out here
on the canal bank.

There’s something about this
damp Air
that draws them.

I don’t mean this in a nasty way
but I think he’s a bit simple.
Just, you know,
not quite a full shilling.
Whatever though:
he’s doing useful work
down here
picking up the litter.

I saw him this evening in the light
for the first time.

He’s black, Caribbean I’d say
and his high-viz-vest is faded
and dirty at the edges.
His chin has patchy
scraggles of whiskers.

I’ll tell you this
and you might not believe me
but he has a little buoyancy aide
slung round his neck
it’s dirty.
I guess the health and safety people
say he has to wear it.

The water at night-time breathes
and takes on
a character
some might perceive as menace.

I don’t know what to make of him
out there in the dark
like a wraith in the London mist
working away whilst I’m in bed.