The 2012 Advent Calender: For the 25 days of Christmas, I will be blogging each day about a miscellaneous thing I love. Not necessarily a big thing, not necessarily a small thing and not in any order.
My father died two and a half years ago of cancer. He died at home, with my mother by his side after a long and happy marriage. I was 21 at the time, and I don’t really have words to explain the true impact of the death of a parent, such a long way from the histrionics of soap opera and more a quiet sadness that sneaks up from unexpected places but stays quiet at moments you’d expect to be deafeningly loud.
This poem was written a year after his death in an attempt to frame all the many memories of him into one picture.
At first he was the study door
In the shadowed corner of the hall
Where once I crept
When I should have slept
The adventures between my own four walls
Hemmed in by carpet roads, rehearsed and small
But spying on a grown-up world
I imagined adventures bloom and unfurl
Behind the shaded study door.
On Friday evenings he was a son,
Cilla and the Street playing on
Grandma’s television, our weekly dose
Of cinema glamour, carefully vetted,
Drip fed, lest we became enamoured
And it led us down the garden path.
Sometimes he was a schoolboy, shipped away
To boarding school, mother’s boy unable to
even behead a boiled egg.
Sometimes he was the storyteller, spinning stories
Of the slipper at dawn, and greens tipped away
Of stealing treats for Matron’s time.
Polished up with boys-own pride,
The tales thronged like a clamouring class
Of boys in short trousers, blazers and socks to the knees,
left to embroider behind the eyes
of the treacle teddy, gone from head on a pillow
to displayed in a case.
In other news, Bulgy Bear was found
Prowling the woods, and cavorting around.
In the foliage of nouns I found my own kind of fame
Enter hero, happening to bear my own name.
Slipped into new morning’s stories,
Brought to judgement before the beak
While the car horns toot and the treehouses creaks.
A generation later I’m yesterdays hero,
Grandchildren shrugging on the mantle.
Once upon a time Bulgy tapped into print,
Looking toothless and lost, half-complete
How could cold white paper ever receive
The spirit of sunlight and wrapped up duvets
That filled in the spaces as the stories were weaved.
Sometimes he brought the morning: plain mug of tea
Vivid in colour, insipid in taste,
Sipped from slumber, then left to go cold.
Sometimes he was a poet, metred memos
and sonnet form faxes. In a dusty folder
on a shelf is a psalm: it’s broken in the middle.
Sometimes he brought the night: a whispering
Close to the ear, a tickle on the edge of sleep
The colour of a comfort blanket.
Sometimes he was the supposed playboy:
In every city as we drew near,
he’d say “I used to have a girlfriend here.”
My mother rolls her eyes, tuts patiently:
After all, she got him in the end,
Her name on the letters arriving at the hands of a friend,
In the watches of the nurse’s night,
In London–the big smoke–when the world was black and white.
These are stories: for to a primary mind
How can there be any names but ‘Dad’?
Sometimes he was a businessman; I rode the coat-tails
Sneaked the Famous Five from his ten per cent,
Became a proud production line,
green into white,
green into white,
green into white,
And on Sunday afternoons I squinted at taped together pages
as he mangled the Latin, and pasted my name into history.
His half was a box of close-printed words:
Quarter folio; fly leaf; half back; joints cracked;
At fifty pence per page.
Every half a decade or so,
The walls would bulge with books,
The house would grow and grow,
As rows of books assembled, shuffling their dusty feet,
Waiting to be tied up into brown paper packages
Par avion, away to meet
Their next caretaker,
Next big seller.
Sometimes we dreamed: awoke in the morning
Without the treasures we’d claimed
From a bookshop behind the eyelids.
Sometimes he was a judge: one to ten, country and song,
Radio Two piping Eurovision into our living room.
Only the radio: at the end of the day
It’s about the music, not dancing, he’d always say.
Sometimes he was a preacher, a Tuesday night occurence
Latin swapped for thumb-blackened college Bible,
A study wrapped in thick silence; an echo
of a study door from years before.
I’ve been told he was excellent, but rarely enticed
to appear; I’ve been told he was nervous,
But I never noticed.
On a Monday I try, tying my inherited tie,
To decide if my nerves are the same.
Sometimes he was the trickster: quick swift double cross
Look over there, and
an empty place setting.
Beneath the glasses banned from removal
The cleaner faced down a ball-point grimace.
Sometimes he was a sailor, but his boats
Sailed safely only carpet.
After all: everything (sailing, drinking, breathing, walking, flying, holidaying,
Sometimes he was a donkey
(only in voice)
(only to grandchildren)
I heard stories: a note in a biscuit tin: dread.
Yet when he told me he felt he hadn’t earned respect from me as a child
I had no answer.
And when, head turned on hospital pillows, he told me
“In the end, this is all life is…”
I had no answer.