Tuesday Poem – ‘Night Watch’ by Dave Alton

Night Watch

Town of a thousand holes, at the bottom
Of each a dark boggart lurks, cunningly
Creating mischief for careless souls who’re
Simply passing. Urban plastic tendrils
Squirm, coil and wrap around the bed-ridden
Riding alive through comatose dreaming.
All the while tower blocks round and about
(Facades irritated by rashes of light,
Scratched by bitter wind, hardly soothed with rain )
Pluck up their concrete roots and, like golems,
Lurch along through pedestrian precincts,
Passed shops and stores blinded by steel shutters
Billed with vainglorious posters proclaiming
Imminent revolution, this week’s sales,
Or the immanence of God and the end
Of Days. Even as ungainly tower blocks
Retreat beyond traffic lights, boggarts
Emerge from excavations flimsily
Fenced round with barbers’ poles, in such a way
Shadows might ease free from corporeal
Bodies responsible for casting them.
Night is the product of curtains being drawn
Against streets that have to be abandoned
To darkness, light so selfishly horded
In living rooms, in the eyes of voyeurs
Who do not realise televisions
Are vampires existing by sucking life-time
From fascinated victims. Far too late
They switch off, for it’s bed time, deathbed time.
The night watch is running slow, leaden hands
Weighing every heavy second, holding
Each one just too long, making the minutes
Fall behind the clock. A hospital cot
Easily contains these remains of a man,
So little of him left, his shadow gone.
Even breath can be no longer his own,
Generous town sharing its air with him
Via one of those serpentine urban tendrils
Worming its way through the wall to his nostrils.
Hardly a burden with so little left
Him to draw from his account. Family
Come and sit and sit and go in relays
Of concern, keeping his lips barely moist
With final kisses and cool water soaked
Into pink sponge swabs on thin lollysticks
Looking like unspun candyfloss. Night watch
Knits or reads or plugs into World Service
While drowsing on the one comfy armchair.
For all that time is tardy dawn still comes,
Shift changes, while night and day will remain
All the same to him even as tower blocks
Step back into place, boggarts burrow back
Into earth and the curtains are drawn back,
Back and back, releasing light from their rooms
To illuminate awakening streets
And the living realising they still are.


English: Clock of Church of St Lawrence, Alton

Dave Alton is a Newcastle-based poet who was a member of the Tyneside Poets in the 1970s.  He is joint editor (with Keith Armstrong – see last week’s post) of the  Poetry Tyneside blog,which publishes contemporary poetry and examples from the archives of “Poetry North East”.

As well as performing his poetry and being published in magazines and newspapers, Dave has co-edited two collections of young people’s writing under the title Don’t Tell My Friends, and has written scripts for pantomimes.  Dave is also a regular contributor of spoken ballads to the monthly podcast Folkcast  , developing traditional folk tales, many from the North East of England, into verse.

Dave made links with the New Zealand Poetry Society on a recent visit to New Zealand and is including NZPS poets  on the Poetry Tyneside blog.  If you would like to contribute a poem, please email two or three poems to tynesidesubs at hotmail dot co dot uk

Dave was kind enough to arrange for Peter and I to meet up with him and fellow poet Keith Armstrong (who featured in last week’s post) on our recent trip to the UK.

Dave Alton at the Bridge, Newcastle


  1. I like the details of the ordinary (the knitting, the World Service) combined with the emergence of the somewhat sinister boggarts. I wasn’t familiar with that word before reading this, and the local, specific language, combined with universal concepts such as time and death, knit something strange and strong together. ‘(M)aking the minutes/fall behind the clock’ is a great image. Thank you Dave, and Janis for posting.

  2. ‘Televisions as vampires’ – too true! While reading, I had these wonderful fleshy, eerie, creeping sensations. Loved it, Janis! Thanks for sharing Dave’s work – I shall have to seek out more 🙂

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