Down Among The
Comfortable People

Walking down the long hill to town one afternoon - I’d like to pretend
it wasn’t a bitter fenland day in December but it was -
I decided to buy a book for a friend who’d done me great kindnesses
during the year just ending.

Even leaving aside two teenagers necking on a convenient sofa in TRAVEL,
people chatting on their mobiles or joining the straggling
queue upstairs for coffee and muffins, the crush inside my favourite bookstore
definitely bespoke Christmas.

Most of the comfortable people like me were concentrating their credit cards
on making sure media stars and popular novelists
sold enough hardbacks in the next few days to keep their twitchy accountants
tranquillized for months to come

And luckily the crowd was too preoccupied with being a crowd to look
very far beyond the end of its nose, so that once I’d climbed
the staircase past INTIMATE RELATIONS and reached the hushed top floor
where nothing popular lived,

I was free to wander undisturbed across acres of softpile to the bottom shelves
of the very last case by the windows, where management,
following a recent stock rationalization, had decided MYTH & LEGEND might
most profitably be displayed.

Despite seasonal muzak burbling from speakers hidden behind ceiling tiles,
it was peaceful beyond INTERNATIONAL POLITICS,
with good views across roofs and spires through large semi-circular windows
saved from renovation by someone’s common sense.

There was an armchair too which I thought I might just sit in while I browsed
if it wasn’t already occupied - but no such luck - it was,
by one of our local homeless men who’d drifted off to sleep some time before,
an open book across his greasy trouser legs.

Impossible to say how long he’d been asleep - all day maybe, tuckered out
behind rows of heavyweight tomes on Malory and the Grail,
shelves of scholarly wisdom about King Arthur’s place in history and world
culture - or whether anybody knew that he was there.

I wondered what answers I might find if he chose to wake up then and ask
why I’d waste good money on expensive books
which do nobody any good, when I could much more usefully give it all to him.
Choosing and leaving seemed much simpler after that.

Ken Head

If you've any comment on his poem, Ken Head would be pleased to hear from you.