Historian dies in fiery crash
(i.m. Michael King, 1945-2004)
And all our competence in words fails us.
When the horror’s beyond exaggeration,
go back. Try not to imagine it.
But not only “historian”: his wife too –
and just when he was freed of cancer,
the tumour shrunken; life opening out …
You wouldn’t expect a poem from me, Michael –
we weren’t on those terms. But your death invites
whole anthologies of dazed responses.
It’s all over the papers on my screen:
to drive into a tree and be whelmed in flames …
No, no. Go back. Let’s have some history.
You came to see me (the fellow-Kiwi link)
twenty-five years ago in Newcastle,
fresh from your rediscovered northern kin –
the old man who greeted you at the door
(“Hello. I’m your nephew from New Zealand”)
with “I’ve got a terrible stomach-ache!”
They showed off the flash new shopping precincts.
I walked you around the medieval
street-plan, and into the castle.
How many meetings since? And where have I put
those pictures of us all at Titirangi,
writers together? Laughing, probably …
The police think you both died at the impact
(all they or we can bear), not in the furnace.
Brilliant biographer; dreadful driver –
dammit, why couldn’t you watch the road?