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Peter’s story

May 20, 2018

I’ll tell you what compassion is, my friend –
it’s when you know the crucible of pain
awaiting you, as you draw near the end,
and still elect to light the path they tread,
who walk in comfort, lit by lesser flame.

I noticed him, installed and calm ahead
of us, as we in urgent order swarmed
the carriage, took our places and prepared
to rattle through a January night
towards our weekend shelter from the storm.

Nobody spoke. In cheerless squares of light
we glimpsed the flickerings and silhouettes
of lives subordinate to evening rites
in rooms and kitchens: children, dogs and back-
yards telling tales of nurture or neglect.

We hurtled past, confined to our own track:
inflation, miners, oil, the three-day week,
the fight to keep our balance in the black;
until the guard appeared, the traveller stirred
himself and punctured our anxiety:

My ticket is for greater journeys, sir –
I come from where this line begins and goes,
to sit beside you all and share the word
you know, but need to hear and learn again,
and call you to rewrite the lives you chose.

Our eyes were drawn to him, upright, restrained,
stock still in a worn, ill-fitting suit. Dawn broke
forever in his eyes – a sky ingrained
with promise – new sunlight embellishing
the pattern of the day to come, with hope.

This crisis is the moment not to win
back all you can, but time to shake your fear
of losing, calmly reach across and bring
down all the boundaries that defend this world,
and find your plenty in the word we share.

That’s how he always spoke, in words which curled
around the truth until you felt it swell
and germinate within your heart. I turned
back to The Times, but set against its bleak
headlines… he simply drew me in. I fell

headlong, could think of no-one else all week –
his eyes, his voice, his words! – until I found
him on the train, sat close, willed him to speak
and when he stood to do so felt his grace
and love reverberating in the sound.

On better days, I simply breathe the faith
he showed and sowed in me, the certainty
with which he saw our nature, and his death,
and how our correspondence with the grain
of others’ lives dispels our poverty.

What he told us in darkness, we’d proclaim
in light, he said, and I’ll do all he asked,
to raise and radiate his words, his name,
and the compassion I saw in his glance,
as windows rushed the sound of darkness past.

Published in Pennine Platform No. 83

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