TOMMY ON THE BRIDGE*
You were a miner’s son,
in the fertile seam they dragged you from
to beg out your time
on the backs of bridges
that joined others
but left you split,
splay-footed between rough stones
and the snapping tomes
of the Law of the Land
and the Water.
Your wore a casual cloth cap
that muffled your bruised head.
Your trousers sagging at your feet,
you filled that dingy trench coat of yours
resigned to see life life through,
with only coins for eyes
and a bridging loan to buy
At Swing or High Level,
you found a market;
a centrepoint for the rich
to lighten their swollen burden
of conscience a trifle.
And you ‘bored’ yourself
with a dignity that rejected buttons
and accepted only the silver linings
of fat pockets,
bred on a Victorian plenty
and plenty of paupers like you.
You buried your stubbled face
in the crowds that swam the Tyne.
Years across now,
you finally supped
your last cracked gill
And they picked you
neatly from the swollen gutter;
linked your broken hands at rest
an empty chest.
* Thomas Ferens (1841-1907). Born blind and begged on Newcastle’s High Level & Swing Bridges