Slow Waker

by Thom Gunn

Thom Gunn

I look at the nephew,
eighteen, across the breakfast.
He had to be called and called.
He smiles, but without
conviction. He will not
have tea, oh OK,
if it’s no trouble,
he will have tea.

His adult face is brand-new.
Once the newness
clears up and it has got
an expression or two
besides bewilderment
he could be a handsome
devil. He could be
a carpenter, a poet, it’s
all possible…
impossible. The future
is not a word in his mouth.

That, for him, is the trouble:
he lay in bed caught deep
in the mire between
sleep and awake, neither
alert nor resting,
between the flow of night,
ceaselessly braiding itself,
and the gravelly beach
that our soles have thickened on.
Nobody has ever told him
he is good-looking,
just that his feet smell.

He paces through alien London
all day. Everything
is important and unimportant.
He feeds only by osmosis.
He stares at the glint
and blunt thrust of traffic. He
wants to withdraw.

He wants to withdraw into
a small space, like
the cupboard under the stairs
where the vacuum cleaner is kept,
so he can wait, and doze,
and get in nobody’s way.

Collected Poems

Last updated May 12, 2023