The Midnight Crossing Keeper

by Dave Medd

October1969, somewhere on the A63

  A hard journey I made of it,
leaving the main road utterly
the wrong place, too far south;
accepting all the wrong lifts,
dropped in some pretty mad spots.
And my mate’s voice, over a pint,
chuckling this was all folly.
A darkening story, started out
in light, soon I guessed I’d be travelling
all night, sleeping on verges perhaps.

  Pitch dark, but for the legendary stars,
heathen-looking elms on a winter skyline;
flat land drained by dyke and fleet, steeped in
someone else’s language. And by the time
I stumbled on the level crossing, God
I was shattered! Totally misjudged distances
and times between two rivers, yesterdays’ kisses,
eyes through a smeared screen.

  He came out, found me lost on the road, miles
from anything like a pub or a girl, wandering
out of the dark. Took me in the signal box
loud with light, a fairground palace of brilliants.
Thermos tea, hot, dark, sweet as a drug,
jammed paper cork stopper, tight as a vaguely illicit
hug. And a long, old railway, leather bench,
draped in a rug, where I could have slept but
where was I going?  A train was due. He’d close
the gates too soon, maybe we’d catch us a wagon
bound for the docks. He wouldn’t refuse. The guy
took me all the way, well Hopewell Road end,
twenty-five moments from home.

All this was a long time ago, I remember;
probably dead now, my crossing keeper;
I wonder though, was I unique, or did he
often lift up wanderers out of the dark,
give them his tea and a bed and did he
remember? Or is it just me? Too far down
the wrong road, too many stops, imperfect beginnings?
I’d be glad of another lift now, hoping
for words to recall how, just when you think
you’re up the creek, you come to a crossing and
up pops the signalman.

Dave Medd was born in Hull in 1951. In 1965 he discovered folk music, Bob Dylan and Dylan Thomas, since when he has been writing poems. His work has been published in Outposts, Orbis, Dream Catcher, The Coffee House and Obsessed With Pipework. He now lives and writes in Northumberland.