David Lewis Paget
The Boarder And The Book - Poem by David Lewis Paget
A guy called Stanley Weatheringham
Turned up at my college room,
I'd wanted a quiet boarder there
To help with the rent, and soon,
I couldn't afford to be picky, he
Was the only one that applied,
He looked pretty meek and gentle, so
I asked him to come inside.
He said he was writing his Ph.D.
That he only needed a desk,
I said, ‘Come in, and take your pick,
I only come here to rest.'
A tattered book was under his arm
With a cover, badly worn,
And cut in the leather an ancient glyph
In the shape of a cuneiform.
I admit I was more than curious,
But didn't say anything then,
All that could wait for a later date,
Once he had settled in,
I went away and I left him there
For the long drawn afternoon,
And when I returned again that night
He was sitting there, in the gloom.
I switched the light and he flinched and turned
His face towards the wall,
I saw his pallor was pale and grey,
He didn't look well at all,
The book lay open across the desk
And I saw the ancient runes,
Written by hand on the parchment there
With a cluster of purple moons.
He turned and he snapped the book tight shut
Then he seemed to brighten up,
He ran his fingers over his eyes,
‘I think I've read enough! '
He sighed, and locked the book in a drawer
And he took away the key,
Went for a walk and left me there
With my curiosity.
Each day I'd leave him there at the desk
And return when it was dark,
He'd make some lame excuse as he went
To walk out in the park,
I asked him what the book was about,
He said some Persian script,
And when I pushed him for more, he said
One word - ‘Sennacherib! '
He'd never want to discuss it, he
Just liked to be left alone,
But every day he was stranger, like
Some foreigner, far from home,
My sleep began to be troubled, I
Would wake in the early hours,
Thinking I'd heard a trumpet blast
In one of the college towers.
Stanley slept on the other side
Would toss and turn in the night,
And sometimes suddenly sit up straight,
Cry out in a sudden fright,
He'd often call out a single word
From the depths of a vivid dream,
‘Rabshakeh, oh Rabshakeh', he would call,
And then he would scream!
I went to the college library
To look up Sennacherib,
To read of the mighty battles that
This ancient monarch did,
And then I read of his army that
This Rabshakeh had led,
A hundred and eighty thousand in
The morning, lay there dead!
I went back up to my room and found
Some dampness on the walls,
A sort of a yellow fungus that
Was spreading over all,
While Stanley sat, pored over the book,
His skin was blotched and fat,
‘I think you're getting the measles, Stan,
He said: ‘It's worse than that! '
That night as well as the trumpets I
Could hear the clash of steel,
I dreamt of an ancient army camp
Where the banners flew for real,
And men were moaning and calling out
In a tongue I'd never heard,
Calling to some lost pagan god
And ‘Baal' was the word.
The following morning Stanley lay
In a heap upon the floor,
And blood was trickling from his mouth,
From every weeping sore,
The book lay there, malevolent
Its pages yellow with sin,
While a faded angel hovered there,
Looked down on the dying men.
The book was put in a quarantine
In the library, upstairs,
And Stanley, he was cremated by
The Dean, to allay their fears,
My room was locked and barred to me
So I had to find a crib,
I'll never take in a boarder now
Who mentions Sennacherib!
10 February 2013
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