David Lewis Paget

(22.11.1944 / Nottingham, England/live in Australia)

A Penny for the Guy


(Ever remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder, treason and plot,
We see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!)

I was sorting through my father's things,
A month since he had died,
And flipping through the books he'd loved,
To still the chill inside,
When out there fell a photograph
Of me, at nine years old,
A tiny square of black and white
That made my blood run cold!

It brought the memories rushing back,
For in that ancient scene,
I stood before a building that
Would make an old man scream,
An air raid shelter, from the war,
A roof so flat and square,
And on the top the bonfire that
Once lit, brought grief to bear.

November 1946,
Was pencilled on the rear,
That date was burnt into my brain,
It brought a sudden tear,
And memories of childhood friends
I hadn't seen since then,
Nor ever would again, I thought,
I left, when I was ten!

We'd stuffed the Guy with newspaper
Inside my father's suit,
And Ben, he had supplied the hat,
And Shirley brought the boots,
We put him on the barrow
Roamed the streets and gave a shout,
'A penny for the Guy, ' we called,
The Guy just flopped about!

'He isn't very real, ' said Ben,
'His head keeps falling off!
We need a broomstick for the neck.'
Then Shirley gave a cough;
'What if I dressed up in the suit,
That mask, to hide my face?
We'd have the best Guy in the street,
The best Guy in the place!

We laughed, and all agreed, so she
Hid in her father's shed,
Put on the suit, too long for her,
The hat just crowned her head,
We put her in the barrow then,
And pushed from street to street,
'A penny for the Guy, ' we said,
You couldn't see her feet.

A funny girl was Shirley then,
With funny little ways,
She seemed too shy to play with us
Except on certain days.
She said her father was a brute,
He'd tie her to a chair,
And once she said, 'he tied me up
And touched me - you know where! '

We didn't understand at all,
Just kids - she shrugged and sighed,
If we thought anything at all
We thought she must have lied,
For fathers didn't do those things,
We'd never heard of that,
And blushed just at the thought of it;
(She hid beneath her hat!)

That night we sneaked her on the roof
Before our folks arrived,
We didn't want them seeing her,
The Guy would look contrived;
The wood was piled up eight feet high,
We sat her at the top,
'Now don't jump up 'til they're all here,
We'll catch them on the hop! '

I'd smelt that funny smell when we
Were climbing on the pile,
We didn't know what smell it was,
Although it smelt quite vile.
But someone had poured petrol on
The wood to make it burn,
We didn't know what petrol was,
The fumes made Shirley squirm.

The fumes, they must have knocked her out
For when the folks arrived,
We waited, she should jump and shout
But she was scarce alive,
The fireworks were going off
And lighting up the sky,
I said to Ben, 'let's get her down! '
The moment passed us by.

A spark lit up the monstrous pile,
I saw Ben, looking pale
The parents down there, staring up
Just cheered, and drank their ale.
The Guy was soon a blazing torch,
I screamed, 'the Guy's a girl! '
And Ben tugged at her father's coat:
'The Guy up there is Shirl! '

Then suddenly the Guy leapt up
And screamed in pain, aloud,
The flames engulfed her as she jumped
Into the waiting crowd,
Her father caught her in his arms
Became a blazing torch,
He ran, half stumbled back with her,
Collapsed upon the porch.

They lay, two blackened corpses there
With rockets overhead,
And Catherine Wheels and Jumping Jacks
Went off as they lay dead.
We never celebrate Guy Fawkes,
That day won't go away!
I slipped that photo back into
That book, called - 'Let Us Pray! '

7 December 2009

Submitted: Sunday, December 06, 2009
Edited: Saturday, December 19, 2009

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  • John Brown (11/14/2013 6:22:00 AM)

    A fantastic read David. As kids here in Lancashire, we too used to dress one of our gang up as a guy, but never of course with such tragic results. As soon as I read, ' we sat her at the top' I knew what was going to happen, but this didn't lessen the suspense; on the contrary, it heightened it. I like narrative poetry, and have written a couple of what I've called Ballads. If you'd like to read one I would recommend, 'The Ballad of Ronnie Dunwoody'. Best wishes, John (Report) Reply

  • Cynthia Buhain-baello (2/2/2010 5:41:00 AM)

    Remarkably written narrative and a sad, moving, and tragic tale. It has all the elements of mystery, twists, and tragedy, and nostalgia in the end. You are a master poet and an artist. (Report) Reply

  • Ann Beard (12/7/2009 1:12:00 AM)

    Oh I do hope that is just a story David, Perfectly written with tragic flow. I was quite pulled into the tale. so sad. Kind regards Ann (Report) Reply

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