Doc 'Lemon'

A (true) poem by Tom Lewis
(Recorded by Tom Lewis on Sea-Dog, See Dog!)

Most sailor's tale are legends, wearing truth's disguise,
Just deep-sea-blue embroidery and some are downright lies,
But I'll tell you a true sea-story, the way it was told to me,
By an old salt sat in an armchair a long, long way from the sea.

I remember old Doc 'Lemon', 'least that's what he was called,
He was educated and genteel, y'know; not like a sailor at all!
He'd never talk about his past, but some real or imagined guilt,
Stabbed at his guts like a wharf-rat's knife that was buried up to the hilt.

In port he could always be found in a bar, just drinking to hide from the shame,
At sea, with no liquor, he drank lemon extract and that's how he got his name.
His only friend in all the world was a giant but silent Swede,
The Doc had done him a favour once and he never forgot the good deed.

With a fireman's bar he could break-up the clinker with a single, one-handed thrust,
No man on the ship had seen that before, he was 'Slice-Bar' Johannsen to us.
When the U-boat surfaced astern of the ship the Skipper yelled: "Gimme Full Steam!",
But with shells making hells of the foc'sle and galley, escape seem no more than a dream,

'Til a heaven-sent fog-bank hid us from view, so we could escape from the fray,
And inbetween screams the injured found cause to bless the old drunkard that day.
For once 'Doctor' Lemon lived-up to his name and Johannsen he played 'the nurse',
While with hands never shaking but soothing and kind, he patched-up the breaks, burns and worse.

But 'Slice-Bar' died on the convoys where the seas did burn and boil,
He was still just alive when they picked him up but his lungs were full of oil,
And I don't know where Doc Lemon went, he just sorta' slipped from sight,
'Til twelve years later, on South Street Pier, on a cold December night,

From our of a pawn-shop window, HIS name leapt up to my eye,
And the memories came flooding back, 'cos memories never die.
He'd pawned this grateful tribute, from men who's lives he'd saved,
The whisky meant more than the gift, I guess, The booze had Doc enslaved.

Too 'busted' to redeem that plaque, I left it there on the shelf,
But, y'know, whatever his sins, by the lives he'd saved; Doc Lemon redeemed himself.

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