Death In The Lounge Bar

A poem by Vernon Scannell

The bar he went inside was not
A place he often visited;
He welcomed anonymity;
No one to switch inquisitive
Receivers on, no one could see,
Or wanted to, exactly what
He was, or had been, or would be;
A quiet brown place, a place to drink
And let thought simmer like good stock,
No mirrors to distract, no fat
And calculating face of clock,
A good calm place to sip and think.
If anybody noticed that
He was even there they'd see
A fairly tall and slender man,
Fair-haired, blue-eyed, and handsome in
A manner strictly masculine.
They would not know, or want to know,
More than what they saw of him,
Nor would they wish to bug the bone
Walls of skull and listen in
To whatever whisperings
Pittered quietly in that dark:
An excellent place to sip your gin.
Then---sting of interruption! voice
Pierced the private walls and shook
His thoughtful calm with delicate shock.
A waiter, with white napkin face
And shining toe-cap hair, excused
The oiled intrusion, asking if
His name was what indeed it was.
In that case he was wanted on
The telephone the customers used,
The one next to the Gents. He went.
Inside the secretive warm box
He heard his wife's voice, strangled by
Distance, darkness, coils of wire,
But unmistakably her voice,
Asking why he was so late,
Why did he humiliate
Her in every way he could,
Make her life so hard to face?
She'd telephoned most bars in town
Before she'd finally tracked him down.
He said that he'd been working late
And slipped in for a quick one on
His weary journey home. He'd come
Back at once. Right now. Toot sweet.
No, not another drop. Not one.
Back in the bar, he drank his gin
And ordered just one more, the last.
And just as well: his peace had gone;
The place no longer welcomed him.
He saw the waiter moving past,
That pale ambassador of gloom,
And called him over, asked him how
He had known which customer
To summon to the telephone.
The waiter said, 'Your wife described
You, sir. I knew you instantly.'
'And how did she describe me, then,
That I'm so easily recognized?'
'She said: grey suit, cream shirt, blue tie,
That you were fairly tall, red-faced,
Stout, middle-aged, and going bald.'
Disbelief cried once and sat
Bolt upright, then it fell back dead.
'Stout middle-aged and going bald.'
The slender ghost with golden hair
Watched him go into the cold
Dark outside, heard his slow tread
Fade towards wife, armchair, and bed.

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