Thursday 12 December 2019

What Can You Do?

by Nick Gisburne

They stare as he lowers himself to the seat
Then wonder and guess at his age
His clothing is dated, but stylish and neat
Intentions not easy to gauge

‘Sir, how can I help you?’ The youngster is curt
Distracted, his focus is small
The old man looks sorry, regretful, and hurt
But nods at the sign on the wall

‘Employment - All Ages’, in letters of gold
He points to himself. ‘Eighty two’
Impatient, two eyes of pure boredom are rolled
A sigh, and then, ‘What can you do?’

I’ve worked in the cities, I’ve worked on the land
I’ve worked in most places between
There’s no job I’ve taken too low or too grand
Each day I start ready and keen

My father first taught me to sit out and fish
I’ve made my own rods, my own net
I’ve roasted whole salmon and served up a dish
No chef you could name would forget

I’ve worked on the railways, repairing the track
I’ve stoked up the engines with coal
It’s heavy, it’s dirty, it’s hard on your back
But sweat puts a shine on your soul

Spent time in the army, years earning my stripes
But left it to build my own boat
I’ve been a town crier - a fine set of pipes
But tone deaf, I can’t sing a note

I’ve washed the queen’s dishes, once tried on the crown
I boxed with bare fists in my prime
I’ve been a good juggler, a terrible clown
And I swallowed swords, long ones, part-time

I’ve sold baked potatoes, hot chestnuts, fresh pies
I pushed my old barrow for miles
I’ve wrestled all-comers, whatever their size
And walked every inch of these isles

It’s living with horses, wherever they’re found
That’s built a warm place in my heart
Good years as a drayman, or ploughing hard ground
And times when I worked the milk cart

The finest of all, though, the funeral hearse
Black geldings, they’d always behave
I’d taken on two jobs, to fill up my purse
The night before, I dug the grave

If black is your colour, a sweep beats the lot
There’s nothing that’s darker than soot
They say a sweep’s lucky, but chimneys stay hot
You know what was burning? My foot!

Some skills I’ve found useful for many a year
I mend my own clothes, I bake bread
I know how to brew up a fine drop of beer
And fifty-four years I was wed

I’d sailed off Down Under, for opals and gold
But brought back a jewel worth more
We knew we’d stay happy, live well and grow old
And that’s all we ever asked for

Our children, and theirs now, all over the place
A riotous river of life
But this year, the photos, they’re missing one face
My beauty, my angel, my wife

I can’t bring her back now, just make her more proud
I’ll work hard, if given a chance
I’m not like some buggers, that internet crowd
Not stuck to my phone in a trance

I saw how you looked at me when I walked in
And how you said, ‘What can you do?’
I’ve plenty more stories, so shall we begin?
Let’s start with: a lot more than you!