While the central figure tries to remember his acquaintances and workmates from the past, he is obliquely offering insights into himself.
The poem comes from Looking for the Line by Alan Young, a graduate of Aberdeen University (Rain Poetry Books, £7.99).
FORTY YEARS AWAY
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Then it was as natural as breathing
To think that he would remember them all,
That he would never forget.
Forty years later
He can’t remember their names
Only the shadows cast by a few:
A beanpole ex-policeman with George Orwell moustache
Shoehorned into a cushy job,
A Yorkshireman in his tweed jacket (summer and winter)
The strong acrid smell from his pipe smoke,
A woman who having survived the war
Was on the cusp of something not quite prepared to change
But by 1963 on its last legs.
He remembered quite clearly
The shape and texture of the building,
The coldness of granite,
Old-fashioned handles on heavy squeaky doors,
The sharp smell rising
From coke he flung into the basement furnace at weekends,
But he had forgotten almost completely
Names and lives
He once felt he would remember for ever.