Drugs began in Aix. Those left who knew him
still talk about his hands. The size of them. His stoop
in Cambridge in a too-small new-build room;
his skin, so white you could see through it, into virginity.
They say how he was a machine, of sorts,
that the only way to get the Nick Drake guitar sound
on record would be to have Nick Drake, on guitar.
He could keep it going for hours: those hands again, their power,
their command the last of its kind, the dead grip of Empire.
Later on, he wouldn’t cut his nails, wash his clothes,
but that was down the road, that brand of sadness a hint
in the air, like the fate of apples only coming into season
that will perish uneaten in their bowl. His voice
the sound of goodness in the fruit, of England
lurching into colour, the trees of the forest bending their heads
like Angels out of Blake; harvest time moving towards him
where he stood apart, from the detritus of a life.
He didn’t like it at home but couldn’t bear it anywhere else.
He was tired. He hung a future on the stopped cogs
of his alarm clock, then slept through it.
Declan Ryan was born in Mayo, Ireland, and lives in London. His most recent pamphlet is “Fighters, Losers” (New Walk Editions).