Malcolm Starke Died Today

Malcolm Starke died today
who rang us most nights
so late that it could only be him.

He’d been there forever
sinking audible coins
into the payphone at the flats
where he was watchman
and they tried to fire him once
for being sockless.

Greeting me with Alasdair’s name
or him with mine
he would catch us on the line
and in a voice of infuriating softness
tell us about Turkey
the times
he went to Turkey
and the National Gallery
which is on Trafalgar Square.

We’d lurch and charge around
in absolute quiet
sometimes laying the receiver on a chair,
drawing long daggers into our hearts
cocking our necks on invisible rope
slashing our throats with giant swords
bellowing fuck off with our huge silent teeth.

For birthdays he knew us apart
and on scraps of scissored foolscap
drew us into trains and carriages
drew us in turbans and pyjamas
drew us Turkish, presumably.
No likeness at all, covered in tipex,
I have every one.
They were always two days early
never the same
he’d never met either of us.

But you knew him at university.
You kept inviting him round
after he was arrested
for talking to girls and embarrassing people.
And though you sometimes seemed
the least patient of us three,
though you’d thank us when
we’d told him you weren’t at home,
you raised us in a house where
Malcolm Starke might ring at any moment,
where he was never far away
and he was ours.

He felt that nuclear waste
could be disposed of
by firing it into the sun.
He felt that a sinister committee
had taken remote control
of his valuable brain.
That sometimes they didn’t
‘play fair’
with him.
He felt that, behind all this,
was the Duke of Edinburgh,
that in the end the Duke of Edinburgh
would torture him to death.
You knew all this, and told us,
and now you are the one
looking for his father
that had him in a loony bin
for however many years,
to tell him Malcolm Starke died today,
because like a fat mad bell
you let him ring.
The one time I did meet him,
at the mongrel Greek café on Turnham Green
he was so fat, so glad to see you,
sat beside a whole stack of finished paintings
having a waiter hold them up to show you,
while his soft voice declared
this one is good I think
this one is rather good, I think.

Kit Buchan

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