Poem – Fleur Adcock

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?



Fleur Adcock

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