60 January’s have passed and I have written about my father’s death many times: the first time in 1972, My Father (see end) most recently a reprint of ‘Lesson Unspoken’ A Fork in the Road see pg15 I sometimes wonder whether I have ever written about anything else. Of course it just feels like that because when you suffer bereavement so early in in life, that becomes who you are. Had he lived, had he come home again, had he been part of our life after Monday 11th January 1960, I would not now be the person I am. None of us would. It was an event that shaped the entire family. From that fork in the road, you go through life knowing the secret. I know a Secret

Death of the Father collected an honourary mention in the Binnacle Competition 2011
But y
ou never know what that other reality might have been. If the cosmos really is multi-dimensional and if everything that can happen does happen, it doesn’t matter: except that the pain leaves scars and the scars in some universal truth, turn into poetry.

scars in black and white
like every photograph he
ever had taken

This was Daddy more or less as I remember him. He died of a congenital heart defect aged 48. I suspect he didn’t know about it. My younger sister doesn’t remember him at all though she was the only one of us who has a photo taken with him.

I remember the day of the funeral, the woman next door had us in for her daughter’s birthday, (which it wasn’t) and it was pretty weird because the curtains were closed. You notice that kind of thing when you’re 5. So whilst the younger ones played Esme, who was 7 and nobody’s fool, pulled the curtain to one side and explained to me: It’s the funeral. Mrs Slater’s wallpaper was black with yellow roses: I’ve never forgotten that wallpaper — well how could you?!

Everyone has swallowed grief, I know. My mother more than most. She lost three baby girls, two of them in 1940, May and June (they would have been 80 this year,) and Eleanor in 1942. I wrote about them too in The Bridge Between in Gyroscope Review and about her grief after the loss of our dad in A Room for Living.

My sister sent me some of my ‘old hankies’ at Christmas. They used to be given as gifts years ago before tissues became the norm and the world so wasteful. Yet somehow these never got used. Most of them were mine. One or two my mother’s. One I bought in Rothsay when I was 12. They are vintage now of course, all more than fifty years old. Esme thought I should use them. What should I use them for? I wouldn’t like to blow my nose or sneeze into heirlooms. I wouldn’t want to use them for tears. I am hoping to put them to some better use.  I happen to have a friend who also lost a baby girl to heart problems in January. We’re going to try and get them made into a child’s quilt to raise some money for the Children’s Heart Foundation to help other sick babies. I am sure my parents would both have liked that idea and my sister, having worked as a midwife all her life will surely approve too.

In August Noel and I will celebrate our 40th Wedding Anniversary. I am not sure in what manner we will celebrate it. Maybe we’ll manage a holiday of some kind. It’s quite an achievement to stay together all this time and we’re lucky too that we still enjoy each other’s company. It’s a fine thing to grow old together. In fact it’s a fine thing to grow old at all. Time to let go.

My Father was written when I was 18 and first published in my school magazine, The Braid. It’s a bit angst ridden and teenage but it is what it is, as I am who I am.

I remember a man who used to live
at our house when I was a child;
a smallish man who used to wear
blue overalls with silver buttons
that I would twiddle when he nursed me;
a putty smelling man with oily hands
strong and gentle.

He used to call me
his girl when
I sat on his knee at dinner time each day
and I would kiss his cheek because
I liked him.

He took me to school each morning on his bike;
trousers held firmly to his legs with large black clips,
a tweed cap on his head.
He smelt of linseed, solder, copper pipes.

Each Sunday we all went with him
to church,
eating our way through sermons, hymns and prayers
with large white sweets
which were his favourites.

And then there were the walks;
the long cool walks on summer evenings
or in early spring –
I forget when.

Time dims the memories that remain,
just as it dimmed the loneliness and pain
felt by a child
too young to understand.

There’s no place now for sentiment or tears.
I’ve no tears left to shed.

 

A Room for the Living and The Photograph were published together in The Shine Journal and you can read them there still where they shine out white against black –but I’ve put them here too just for preservation — though nothing last forever. They are two of my favourite poems. Hope you like them too.

The Photograph (for Christine)

She didn’t remember her father
that day,
spade in hand,
demonstrating the best way
to fill a bucket with sand.

Hands on her waist, she looks
grumpy.
Why didn’t he just go
away. As if she didn’t know
how to play.

She didn’t know
it was the last thing
he would ever teach
her, here
on this monochrome beach.

 

A Room for the Living

A dry,
rasping sound.

My mother on her knees
at the hearth
as if at prayer,
riddles
the last of the hot ash down
through grate slats;

constantly coughs
breathing fine grey dust,
newspapers
covered in grey dust,
apron
covered in grey dust.

The hearth is thick with it.

The bright brass fender,
covered will not
suffer this
indignity.

The Mayflower shines
proudly
on the fire screen
on the long handled
companion set.

Silverfish slither away.

Mother uses
an old blackened shovel
daily
kneeling

before Daddy’s ship
in a bottle,
forever frozen
on a blue wooden sea;

before the Rock of Ages
where rich and poor
seek salvation from the storm
and losing all,
are saved.

On grey wallpaper scenes;
an old stone cottage,
a well,
a path,
a few geese,
repeated
over and over again
as if that prayer
will
transport
this country girl
out of town,
Mother draws pussycats
thinking about
crosswords.

My mother is good at
cross words.

She rises;
goes to dump the ashes on the garden and
I wait for her to come back,

to tell her….

certainly not for tears

Not for tears.