Poem For James

I was fifteen when I met you. You and I were never children
we were only ever boys. With nothing else in common
but the luxury and boredom to wish our lives more wanton
I fed on your hubris, you chewed on my pride.

Hot rocks pockmarked our high school ties
we pushed enveloped ciphers between fifty lines
and getting pished was reverence. Must was in our eyes.
We felt that it was right and it was good.

I remember you at seventeen in your little white car
drifting down the high street like a disabused glacier
nose at the windscreen, wrapped in a valium shawl
your hair already greying. You always looked much older than you are.

Then I left for Glasgow. You stayed. I’m glad I wasn’t there for those days
I’m glad I wasn’t there when what you needed was another bridge to burn
the central belt my arm’s length from the belt around your arm
it’s not just that I couldn’t – it’s that I wouldn’t have kept you from harm.

Now I know that habits form like stars die.
I think of us sprawled out on the golf course.
How were we to know that the twinkling in the sky
was already cold, for worse or for worse?

Let me be clear: there is no should
I’m just clearing out the must.
You liked downers, I liked hallucinogens;
that was the only difference between us.

I remember the last time we hung out together –
driving back to Guildford in your battered white van
you parked in a well-to-do suburb of Brighton
and stepped outside. I heard the back door slam.
You left me with my roll-up and Radio One
‘wait there mate’, you said, ‘I won’t be long’.
A song I liked was playing. I can’t remember the song.
I imagined you reflected momentarily in foil
snapping at your clipper in the tin brown darkness.
I looked at some trees and felt paranoid and a bit of me was jealous

because I understand completely why you lost your adult life
to the needlepointed polygraph of habit.
We both had everything we ever could have wanted
our arrogance just made us not to want it.
James, it’ll be good to see you again
to clear out some of this must.
You liked downers, I liked hallucinogens;
that was the only difference between us.

But friendships form like stars survive
despite themselves, on Earth.
The twinkle never leaves the eye
that measures what their worth.
It’s Christmas Eve, let’s stay up late
fuck knows how long it’s been.
It’s just so good to see you mate
and good to see you clean.
Let’s go to the golf course and look at the stars
whatever the fuck they mean.