Cafferty’s Truck, Robin Thomas

Dempsey & Windle, 2021    £8.00

A vehicle for meaning

Perhaps all poems are vehicles for meaning, but this pamphlet adopts that idea in a concrete and literal sense; Cafferty’s truck is the protagonist of the poems, not the man himself. The truck appears in most of the poems. Sometimes, as in ‘Journey’, it is moving around:

The truck makes its way
through village and town
and comes to a stop.
and up through the hills
goes the rackety truck
to a place with a horse
and a church and a pub

Sometimes it is waiting as in ‘Cafferty visits the Jeff Koons exhibition’:

The truck is parked
as close as permitted
to the Ashmolean Museum

After a time
it inches from its parking space
in order to go somewhere else.

Sometimes the truck is compared to other vehicles. In the title poem ‘Cafferty’s Truck’:

Byrne, in his trim red van,
respectfully following, follows
Cafferty’s yesterdays with his tomorrows.

At first I was reminded of children’s TV programmes such as Postman Pat or Fireman Sam but as the poems progressed I began to appreciate the very understated characterisation of a man’s life through the extended metaphor of his truck, which in ‘Cafferty in Tesco’ becomes a shopping trolley and in ‘Cafferty at Sea’ becomes ‘The rust-smeared ferry’.

I particularly enjoyed the poem ‘The Egg’. Perhaps this is as near as we get to the man himself: 'On the part-occupied table for two / in the corner of Café Nineveh', a ‘long-awaited egg’ is to be served. That first line is so subtle — there he is but not quite. The egg is the subject of the poem and the truck waits outside.

The pamphlet left me in a state of meditation about life as a journey, the elegant simplicity of life when it is pared down like this and questions about what any of us amount to really.

Anne Bailey