The Death of Richard Beattie-Seaman in Belgian Grand Prix, 1939

by Tony Curtis

Trapped in the wreckage by his broken arm
he watched the flames flower from the front end.
So much pain- Holy Jesus, let them get to me
so much pain he heard his screams like music
when he closed his eyes- the school organ at Rugby
Matins with light slanting down
hot and heady from the summer’s high windows.
Pain-his trousers welded by flame to his legs.
His left hand tore off the clouded goggles-
rain falling like light into the heavy trees,
the track polished like a blade.
They would get to him, they were all coming
all running across the grass, he knew.
 
The fumes of a tuned Mercedes smelt like
boot polish and tear gas-coughing, his screams rising
high out of the cockpit-high
away back to ’38 Die Nurburgring.
He flew away with Clara
banking and turning the Wessex through a slow circle
over the scene-sunlight floating off the line of cars,
 
people waving, hoardings and loudspeakers, swastikas
and the flags of nations lifted in the wind he stirred.
She held his arm tightly, her eyes were closed.
He felt strong like the stretched wing of a bird,
the course mapped out below him.
That day Lang and Von Brauchtisch and Caracciola
all dropped out and he did it – won
in the fourth Mercedes before a crowd of half a million
– the champagne cup, the wreath around his neck,
An Englishman the toast of Germany
The camera caught him giving a Hitlergruss.
 
Waving arms, shouts and faces, a mosaic
laid up to this moment-La Source- tight-the hairpin
the trees-tight-La Source-keeping up the pace
Belgium-La Source hairpin too tight.
 
With the fire dying, the pain dying
the voices blurred beneath the cool licks of rain.
To be laid under the cool sheets of rain.
A quiet with, just perceptible, engines roaring
as at the start of a great race.