When I was very young, many of our streets still had gas lamps. The lamp-lighter would appear in winter around three or three-thirty to light those lamps. I remember him walking up the street with his long pole over his shoulder, moving from lamp to lamp. We had one outside our front door. He would turn on the gas, then light the lamp from the lighted wick at the end of his pole. Sometimes he carried a ladder with him. Then, every so often, when the lamp needed tending, he would climb the ladder and adjust the wick. These gas lights were not very bright but they stood out like light houses between stretches of darkness and we would walk from pool to glowing pool, as if they were stepping stones leading us up the hill to home. We all knew the lamplighter and he would often wave to us as we sat in the front room window to watch him walk by. We rarely saw him in the mornings when he came back to turn off the lamps. We were all tucked safely into our beds. I remember that I wanted to be lamplighter. Later I realized that there are many ways to light a lamp and spread brightness through the world. When I qualified as an academic and a teacher, I became a lighter of a very different set of lamps.
Comment: I discovered this prose poem in an old and dusty manuscript. I can’t even remember when I wrote it. Prose poems: I discovered Charles Baudelaire’s Petits Poèmes en Prose in a small bouquiniste along the banks of the Seine when I studied French in Paris during the school year I spent in France, 1962-63. I have always loved his prose poems and I have always wanted to write some of my own. That I did, and then promptly forgot about them, is one of the wonders of my creative life. How could I forget these creations? Funny: reading what I wrote back then takes me straight into the front room in my grandmother’s house in Brynmill. She would sit in the bay window playing eternal games of patience and together we would eat grapes, peep at the cards, wait, we didn’t know for what, and watch the light slowly fade. Nobody ever told me my grandmother had cancer. She died from it one day when I was away at school and when I came home for the holidays, she just wasn’t there. Her chair and her table were still there, but her warm presence, her loving kindness, had all gone. I never had a chance to properly say good-bye to her. Maybe these belated words will serve that purpose.