On the train that hurtles through the night towards home,
You are sitting next to a business man who has a thousand unread emails
And faintly, vaguely, shares your peculiar accent.
He checks his watch, sighs, rolls his eyes: five minutes late.
But you’re distracted from people-watching, and the Hardy novel you should
Be reading, as you begin to pass through familiar territory – of the factories, red brick,
Allotments and village greens, which finally propel you into the countryside,
Into the landscape you hazard you may have known as a child.
And alighting the train at the station with two platforms, the quick,
Chill night air hits you: a pleasant change from the old smoke.
Until soon it becomes clear that the customs of barging, cramming and ignoring
(Which apply in London) are nowhere to be found in these parts.
You smile at this, and, looking up, something strikes you about the old place:
For here you can make out Orion’s Belt set against the infinite black,
And a chalky moon you’d be lucky to glimpse in your second home,
Where the rusty-grey haze floods the skyline and consumes tall buildings at night.
And slowly, carefully undressing in your bedroom, you recoil and then recall:
There are no quiet insomniacs smoking beside their lighted windows back here.
Because the long hours from dusk until dawn are not spent
Catching up, chatting up, dancing, romancing, procrastinating, waiting. Waiting.
You go to sleep and you wake up to silence. And walking out the next day,
You can savour the way the leaves are turning (or returning)
Since back here you’re not afraid that this stretch of grass or
Passage of oak is going to end, and give way to the rattling, rambling hum of the city.
And walking down the street where you stole sweets and grazed your knees,
You go unrecognised by people who only remember you as timid and small.
And whilst some of your best friends in the world (who grew up and fell down
In the same forests) will be there, others, and the boy you loved once, will not.
Until soon, wondering how a place can, in one moment, be both different
And the same, you come to the old Housman statue. And you stop before it,
Proud and inviting as ever it stood, to read its sadly faded inscription,
Half worn away by year upon year of autumn rain:
“That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.”