The Fourth Man



The fourth man in the room has gone

He’s ours. Don’t ask an awkward question

For any grain of truth in the answer

Will be intricately spun

The operation is on course

Forget there was another one.


And yet something about the body language

A trick of stride, an understated gesture

(Don’t you agree, Chris?)

Suggest the officer we dropped last year

(Or so they say). At any rate, the message is:

The operation is on course.


And yet when we lost Sarah in the spring

She’d just been saying that she’d seen a pattern

Which no-one else had seen. It’s dark outside again

It may be going to rain. On reflection,

I don’t think that there was another one.


But now the short storm clatters the window pane

I think I’ll stay for a while.

Remember that day in the rain

In Vilnius? It’s good to be alive, I think.

The raindrops rolling down the glass

The insistent dripping from the drain

(Have you noticed, Chris?)

Are just like blood.


The fourth man’s sitting in the silver car

Pretending to read a book about

The end of the world. Distract him, Chris,

I’m going out the back. Chris?

The operation is on course

There never was another one.


This evokes the world of espionage where people’s motives and identity cannot be taken for granted. I think it has a bit of Le Carre about it. This poem began to come to me when I was nearing the end of a birdwatching trip on the Essex coast and headxing back towards Goldhanger.

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