David Lewis Paget
S.O.S. - Poem by David Lewis Paget
(They found her body right under the stairs
Where it had lain for twenty years,
The neck was broken, I heard folks say -
'Too late! ' was the verdict of Gallows Bay) .
* * * *
I'd heard dark things of Samuel Pell,
He drank too much and was far from well,
But he walked the beach in the early morn,
Especially after a gale, or storm.
He checked the flotsam as in it swirled
Into the bay from the seas of the world,
All the jetsam he'd pile up high,
And check each mark, with many a sigh.
But never a word did I hear him speak
From the crack of dawn to the end of the week,
And then he'd hurry on home once more
Where he'd bar his window and lock his door.
He lived in a three-roomed beachside shack
With a lookout room that he'd built out back,
And up to that room he would creep at nights,
With the curtains drawn, you could still see lights.
Red lights, yellow, and some were green
They'd blink and change with a squeal, a scream,
And over all was a dreadful hum
As the world swirled through his solarium.
Towering over the roof, at last
Was a big, old fashioned radio mast,
And folks would grumble in Gallows Bay
'Old Pell's up talking to Mandalay.'
The folks who knew him from times before
Would shake their heads, but would say no more,
For everyone knew that his only son
Was lost at sea when the war was on.
And Pell had been on the Ham that day,
An S.O.S. from a world away
Came tumbling over the ocean's swell
From His Majesty's Ship, the 'Camberwell.'
So Pell had alerted the Naval Base
As the tears streamed over his cheeks, his face,
His fingers flew on the dit-dit-dit
'Til his fingers bled, and his eyes were lit.
But somewhere, in the Atlantic swell
The bow went down of the 'Camberwell',
She slid so silently into the deep,
Carried his son to eternal sleep.
Carried him down with the ship, distressed
Where a sailor's duties are put to rest,
While Pell sat there with his headphones on
His wife had cursed him to hell and beyond.
And then she'd gone, one lonely night
Had left the bay and the daily fight,
Just walked, he'd said, with never a word
Though whether she had, he wouldn't have heard.
For twenty years he'd listened first
To the chatter of Morse at a hundred Hertz,
Then clattered his key to the whole world round:
'Has HMS Camberwell ever been found? '
I watched him, suddenly old and grey
As he walked the beach in his aimless way,
And heard them talk in the old Bar One's,
'I'm hearing that Pell has Parkinson's! '
He stiffened up, and he slowed his walk,
His shoulders hunched, and he couldn't talk,
He beckoned, come to his room up there,
He needed help just to climb the stair.
His hands were trembling on the key,
I knew Morse Code as well as he,
His fingers trembled, he made mistakes
With the dits and dahs, and the sentence breaks.
But in his eyes was the strangest light
Like a man who's suddenly proven right,
He handed over the headphones then
And smiled at me like an old, old friend.
I heard the chatter repeat, and then
Begin the message all over again,
It said: 'Keep listening here, it's true,
For soon I'm coming on home for you! '
The Morse was echoing in and out
Like a message sent from a waterspout,
It waxed and waned, and said: 'It's true!
Old man... I'm coming on home for you! '
He took the headphones, took the key
Was calm at first, more calm than me,
Then tapped a message I could not guess,
Old Pell was tapping an S.O.S.
For then a sound like I'd never heard,
Such beating, just like the wings of a bird,
Old Pell fell back on the old arm rest,
His heart was beating right out of his chest.
His heart was beating, his fingers tapped,
The dits and dahs, they flew, he rapped,
But coming over the headphone swell,
The message was signed - 'HMS Hell! '
He groaned, stared right in my eyes, in fright
His jaw had dropped and his face was white,
He died, and I thought that his soul was free
Though his fingers kept tapping the paddle key.
The paddle key, still tapped in my head,
For minutes then after Pell was dead,
And still I heard - and this I must stress -
The key kept tapping out S.O.S.
9 October 2008
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