Your woman, woven through you in stitches of the finest silk,
I am a stranger to your main life where, as father, grandfather
and husband, you have a favourite pudding and a Big Bear chair.
You insist we are not wrapped in the cliché of a mere affair,
yet I have no notion of how you dry up, whether crosswise
or lengthways you mow stripes into the lawn. Behind my back,
it seems, you perpetrate rituals that illuminate my lack
of you in days spinning like humming tops, keeping you
within the gloss-painted fences of propriety. Mercifully
I only half glimpse you framed in photograph albums annually,
as if by some mistake, celebrating lists of birthdays
with popping balloons and jellies, caught in merry-go-rounds
of mothers’ days and fathers’ days. How your nicknames resound—
even though, spiked on wobbly biro kisses in snowballing cards,
you look pulled apart, like a battered cracker, by too many hearts.
Mine for now, you collect paper hats to wear for the lead parts
in sagas relayed in serial form on flickering screens.
Then change in my arms into a brief fugitive from the give-and-take
of tribal rites. Negating myself, I understand you cannot forsake
their smoke signals for communications when communication fails;
their rough-and-tumble placations—while they dismantle,
tease and resuscitate you—seated back securely on cantles
of their rocking-horse saddles; measuring their sizes
on wallcharts carefully traced with your silhouette. Maybe
I have them to thank for the hollows worn in you that, precariously,
I settle into; for the lines on your face they etch into tightropes
for me to practise a balancing act, while their shadows, not mine,
are cast by you and filled with suns their yellow crayons define.
I cannot help begrudging every tree in your garden for christening
itself a family tree; for beads, wrapped in your musk, that you sweat
so passionately for me, being strung into necklaces, set
into gifts under pillows of down. Were you to live with me, rather
than just inside me, I would lead you back differently to preside
over their tables in a headdress of jungle-bird feathers, hand-dyed
in turquoise and shocking pink. As I rub out my touch
which, like silicone, coats you, I ensure they will never detect
my words on your tongue, your tears in my eyes; nor reject
your bending, like malleable plasticine still, over their lives—
should the household gods, emancipated, desert all our sides.
Your Childhood Letters
In a bottom drawer by chance I find them:
innocent testimonies of that boy still in your eyes.
The notepaper squares fold over a future
of honour, metal, tradition and streamlined skies.
The large, carefully-formed print collects marks
from weekly charts that justify your isolation
in a world of tuck boxes, soccer sevens, cold showers.
My close, compulsive reading allows you no extradition,
acquaints me with the you I never knew when with you—
and with the child we could have had who swings
on those same ropes, oils your roller skates for speed.
Odd how such mandatory sessions of letter-writing
every Saturday to parents little-known continue
to register their formal thank yous and requests
for lemonade powder, Beezer comics, chocolate spread.
In that world I am neither ghost nor guest
as you give news of singsongs in beech wood camps
and scavenger hunts; of painting your model plane
yellow and black; of fishing licences for fifteen shillings,
sails past warships on the river Tamar in the rain.
When your writing joins up and a master reports
your voice about to break, I can read no further.
You did not deserve the future you got with me,
your fateline fractured along with your wonder
at birds winging into swans, coots, herons,
mallard, with first sightings of a stonechat, ring ouzel.
In impersonal type I write to you now with my thank you
for the tracks in life you gave me potentially magical
as the moorhen’s you recorded, for sitting me on a nest
more stable than those you found every spring:
a nuthatch’s in a hole halfway up a tree or a wren’s
in a cracked trunk. My requests, not for the answering,
are for your boxes packed recently by furniture removers
to turn back into your old school trunks; to change
myself into that uncomplicated queen you took, once,
at chess. Quick at learning the range
of birdsong scales I never could quite grasp
in your patient tutelage, she will with hindsight see
that the lifetime you should have shared with me
gets over-written by a love realised too belatedly.