An incoming train ruffles the air.
A hat takes flight and my body responds.
I stretch out a hand and it sticks.
I see a hatless woman smiling
make the right amount of eye contact
return her smile and her hat.
I can hardly believe it happened.
It reminds me of my old idea of myself.
Most days I free ride
on the mysterious abundance of human warmth
someone else to catch the hats
when my head hangs too low to see them
or hold a stranger’s drowning thought
with their eyes.
With good luck and good memory
we can unlock ourselves sometimes.
The day after your next good day
be your own witness
Copyright ©Tom Sastry
ABOUT THE POEM
“Witness” is from Tom Sastry’s 2022 collection You have no normal country to return to, and more particularly from its first section of four, “Be your own witness” (also the last line of this poem). The section considers the “lonely chaos” of Empire, dual heritage, modern history, politics, and identity; Witness” closes it with muted optimism, taking comfort from the kindness of strangers.
The poem captures a moment in time when Sastry feels he is at his best. As he’s waiting for a train, the poet responds by instinct to catch and return a woman’s hat, being careful to make the “right amount of eye contact”.
The incident reminds him of his “old idea of myself”, and provokes further philosophical thought; he free rides on the mysterious abundance of human warmth, relying on someone else to catch the hats or hold a stranger’s drowning thought. There’s a strong sense of the poet coming out of himself, and engaging in a more meaningful life through (careful) interaction with others.
The poet closes on a conditional note of positivity, a declaration that with “good luck and good memory we can unlock ourselves sometimes”; the freedom of being “unlocked” is beautifully understated, and it may be the case that we – the English, the British, poetry-readers, humans – need to loosen or lighten up. The final lines are a rallying call and suggest we awake to the possibilities of life.
ABOUT THE POET
Tom Sastry is a British poet and a “second generation Original. His mother is Originally English and his father Originally Indian”. He was a 2016 Laureate’s Choice poet, and his debut pamphlet Complicity (2016) was a Poetry School Book of the Year and a Poetry Book Society pamphlet choice. Nine Arches Press have published two collections by Sastry, A Man’s House Catches Fire (2019) which was highly commended in the Forward Prize and shortlisted for the Seamus Heaney First Collection Prize, and You have no normal country to return to (2022).