Poem: Suicide Boy, 1872

I came across this news story from a local paper about a suicide-by-train  and wanted to mark it in some way. I feel oddly scrupulous about opining too much, or seeming to assume any understanding of the events it describes.


Suicide Boy, 1872
An account of a West Sussex Gazette story dated 30 May 1872

A boy’s life and death
are pressed
within the sheets
of newsprint,
in binders,
in the dark
and cool.

His mystery and his prospects
lie becalmed and secure
as treasured linen might be,
folded in dry paper,
in a wooden chest.

John was the happiest of the Price brood,
his father said;
but nervy
and sometimes given to “a stud”
at mealtimes.

So yes, sometimes a bit quiet,
in a brown study,
until a word was spoken.
to break the spell.

He was a boy for company.
He vainly offered a week’s
after-school cow-herding
for a younger brother
to walk with him
as they talked of Garland Day.

As spring
burgeoned –
meeting a friend –
he proffered up his knife
as a parting gift
and prepared
he said
to drown himself
in the river.

Ten years old,
a determined
he left his cows
a little way off
– and his prayer book
and his stick.

He laid his neck
on the LB&SC company track
and looked up
at the oncoming train,
and held out his hand
as though shielding himself
from the sight of
the deus ex machina
he made his killer.

The driver stops,
backs up,
and puts the small body
and the separated head
in Third Class and,
goes on to Barnham Station
to deposit the boy there
and proceeds to Three Bridges,
remembering the child’s wet clothes.

And now the lost story –
I mean, unregarded –
lies in the calm
of the West Sussex Gazette,
as a flower might be,
its colours still vivid
from May, 1872 till now.

It is easy to imagine the meadow flowers
which nestled the boy’s belongings
left near his herd.

I want to let
the boy’s story
breathe a little –
that’s the bit I can do –
but its colours
and sounds
and his heartbeat
are still
not stifled,
in the archive.

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Publication date

15 November 2016


RDN's poems