The Guy Who Stands At The Entrance To The Year - Poem by Michael Shepherd
Round about 4 a.m.
when I get up for a pee
or just occasionally, go to bed
there’s a light on across the way
and I wonder, is he the guy
who starts the whole of London off?
Is he the one who drives the unscheduled train
which gets all the other transport workers to
their stations and their trains? Or just gets that first train going?
Or unlocks the gates to where the trains are sleeping,
relieves the night security man, pats his dog,
brews up those cans of tea the drivers take with them?
Or opens the gates for the milk lorries
to come in, the milk floats to quietly trundle out?
Checks in and out the storm-tossed vans that bring
the vegetables and flowers overnight
from Holland on the ferry? Rolls up
the shutters on the yet unbloodied meat market floor?
Switches on the lights that light
the daytime panels of the electric grid,
his footfalls echoing in some vast white hall?
Sees the first dawn passengers, red-eyed, stagger
Off the plane and into the half-empty terminal?
Wakes up the rough night sleepers outside department stores?
Cleans up the beery sickness around Leicester Square?
First down the sewers to warn the big black-brown rats
that the chemicals and the water are on their way?
Or at the best, sociably relieves some night staff, themselves
relieved it’s homing time – ‘Morning, Jack! ’
‘Goodnight to you too, mate! ’
I sometimes walk past his housefront – it’s unlit, no clues, whether
he’s been up all night with the teething youngest of their six; or lost
a partner who just couldn’t stand his hours..
Regular as clockwork, though he missed
‘seeing it in’ until the wee small hours,
he’s the one who started up
January the first, two thousand and six;
and after a lifetime of devoted service
no one may think to recommend him for a medal
for Services to the State. I may catch him, shadowed in the light
from the window he has no need to curtain at that hour, and
glance a silent thanks his way, wondering
if he loves his job; in the sacred stillness of unsullied dawn?
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