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The Lighthouse Keeper - by Kirsten Luckins

Kirsten writes: "The lighthouse keeper of the title is Robert George Wallace, who worked on the bucket dredger Robert De Brus until an accident severed his leg. He was retained on the payroll of Trinity House as keeper of the Moor lighthouse. In 1912, he enlisted his ten-year old son as an apprentice in the Merchant Navy. The boy served throughout WW1, going down in family folklore for his arrest in France at the age of sixteen for attempting to use dud coins at a brothel."

The Lighthouse Keeper

On heavy days, my lost foot

itches, the one the dredger took.

That paternoster scrape-and-dump

stops for no man’s leg. The stump’s

healed shiny, my trouser’s pinned in half,

the empty air needles when I tap the glass.

Mostly, if I seem fogged in thought

I’m picturing the Boy sailing into port,

squinting into the white noon glare

or else glowing a sundown peach, somewhere

with Tees-built ships, but foreign weather.

Barcelona, perhaps, or Valetta.


Bright at ten, but a handful,

I knew the Navy for a funnel

to pour my raw Boy towards better

chances, sense knocked in, learn him his letters

by eleven. In time, he’d cipher more

than that, reading flags and stars,

clouds and charts, things that seem arcane

to lubbers; the tidal wax and wane,

how the arriving future is seen

in a scumble to starboard, or smelled on a breeze.

Political storms are harder to sense.

He’d be a man in the company of men.


At sixteen, after four years of war

he was caught trying to diddle a whore

in Marseilles with a clutch of fake tokens.

Lucky not to have his nose broken,

he told it as a joke, how she flung him to les flics,

his pidgin frog deserting, her patois algérique

a gush of gutter water, hilarious fury.

Down the Pot House, that was the story

he spun, missed out how he’d laughed

at U-boats, but wept for fear behind bars.

Like his mouth never says what he thinks of me,

tethered to my lantern, the fleet running free.

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