The Last Night That We Met

in memoriam CQD, Halifax, February, 2001

We gripped hands awkwardly. I’d grasped your shoulder
To say goodbye, and, that cold winter night
A month before your death, you asked who, turned,
And said my name in such a way that, colder
Though winter nights and dark my own world might
Grow, I knew then the warmth of friendship earned

As only friends can know. There’d been a party.
Saying goodbye to one you’d known when he
Was just a boy, you smiled with memorable
Affection, seemed to volunteer a hearty
Embrace, but tapped his shoulders cordially,
The courteous gesture unforgettable

As frank young Nick politely smiled and spoke
With English charm. And then you left the warm,
Convivial home for cold, dark night, descending
The steep porch stair with frailty that awoke
At once the fear that you might come to harm
While I, with others intermediate lending

What seemed less careful hands than needed, stood
Stranded in anxious idleness, as though
Watching a frail child reach for rocky heights.
But, going warily, you came to good
John Baxter’s van, and all were set to go.
I made my way to you. The dashboard lights

Bright in the biding darkness, the engine warming,
You sat strapped in, face-forward, safe, it seemed,
And ready for the future. But what seer
Of old could hinder time and chance from forming
Affliction’s deadly blow, and what fool dreamed
Of cheating mortal suffering and fear,

Those grim, relentless masters? Yet if grace
Redeems all loss, then we for life might hold
To love engendered in a gentle face
And acts that brace against the final cold.



Tiree MacGregor began publishing verse with The Epigrammatist in the early 1990s. Since then his poems have occasionally appeared in print and online journals. He taught university English for many years in three Canadian provinces and now works as a freelance editor. Born in Scotland, he lives in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.

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16 Responses

  1. Roy Eugene Peterson

    The feelings shown on the loss of a friend are sadly, but trenchantly conveyed. I could feel your inward pain and sorrow that are so well written in classic poetry that speaks to us all.

    • Tiree MacGregor

      Thank you, Mr. Peterson. It was indeed a painful loss, but I’m glad that the poem conveys feelings that will speak to others.

  2. Jeremiah Johnson

    I especially like that “cordial shoulder tap” – in place of what might have been an embrace but which was just, and possibly more-so, memorable.

    I’m inadvertently reminded, in contrast, of the scene at the end of “Death of a Travelling Salesman” where John Malkovich’s character embraces his father, and Dustin Hoffman’s character fails out of pride to return the embrace – right before he goes out the door to take his own life.

    Thank you for your account of the sweetness of male friendship even when mixed with the sadness of loss!

    • Tiree MacGregor

      Thank you, Mr. Johnson, for mentioning the detail of shoulder tapping (selective details are important to the working of this kind of poem), and for your reference to “the sweetness of male friendship.” Drummond would have liked that phrase, I think.

  3. Sally Cook

    A Fine poem. that shares significant snippets of actual occurrences ; just enough to whet the poetic appetite/ Thanks for the subtle way in which you have raised your questions.

    • Tiree MacGregor

      Thank you for your thoughts, Ms. Cook. I would address the “snippets” you mention, but I’ve done so in my note to Mr. Johnson, above, you’ll see.

  4. Cheryl Corey

    A very touching poem. My favorite phrasings are “as though
    Watching a frail child reach for rocky heights” and “mortal suffering and fear,
    Those grim, relentless masters”.

    • Tiree MacGregor

      Thank you kindly, Ms. Corey. I used to urge my students to find the best stanza, if they could, in a poem under study. And certainly finding the favourite phrase or line is both natural and an interesting, even if only impressionistic, exercise.

  5. Paul Buchheit

    The deepest emotions were conveyed in your eloquent words, Tiree. Thank you.

  6. Brian A Yapko

    This is a very sad but beautiful poem, Tyree. You capture a moment in time with deep compassion and intensity. Your poem has me longing to hug my loved ones because… you just never know. Thank you for a powerful reminder.

  7. Paul Freeman

    The emotion is palpable in this poem which is often difficult to achieve.

    Thanks for the read and the pointers, Tiree.

    • Tiree MacGregor

      You are most welcome. I might mention that in this particular case (although the convention of referring to the ‘speaker’ still holds), the events and details were actual. As Cunningham might have put it, this is the sort of poem in which you get testimony under oath. I say these things though the poem was written many years ago.

  8. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    This is a heartfelt, heart-touching poem that says so much with sensitivity and poignancy. I always find these poems the toughest to write. Thank you, Tiree.

    • Tiree MacGregor

      And thank you, Susan. Of all the different sorts of poems I write, or try to, the heartfelt mean the most to me and are certainly satisfying if they reach another. But then heartfeltness (there’s a word) itself is of course not enough, and things get interesting when the demands of form and style, the engagement of one’s judgement and skill, are tested in every foot and line.


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