No 8 - June 1999
A Letter to My Father
When I still called you ‘Daddy’
I used to lie waiting for sleep with the curtains open,
keeping watch on the world with the beeches in our back garden,
the ones I climbed, and carved with my penknife,
and beneath which my sister and I
slept out in summer, in the old bell-tent,
especially when there were too many paying guests.
Those curtains stayed open all year round
when I was at home and sleeping indoors.
It was nearly always warm with my school rug
and my cat Timmy, who liked to wash my ears.
I still did serial dreams in those days.
Even after they vanished in darkness the beeches could be heard
except when the old Lyme Billy, waving its lights,
made the last down run of the day through the cutting behind them
the one we were not meant to go in.
But the best sound of those good nights was always
the carriage clock which you suddenly gave me,
without much explanation that I can recall.
Neither I nor the bricks in those walls have forgotten its chime,
and the worn leather smell of its case cannot be mistaken.
A couple of houses and continents down time
you left with the clock but without saying goodbye.
I believe it had something to do
with how divorce law was in those days.
but I don’t remember whether you wrote to explain.
I was mostly gone by then, at my second university.
I fainted, but only because I had the flu
and was fetched out of bed to a phone in the college basement;
came round on the wet concrete floor
with my uncle squawking meaninglessly in front of me;
replaced the receiver without another word,
four storeys to climb and examinations coming.
I did go uselessly home, of course.
Last year there had been a girl-friend’s sister
attempting suicide in Penzance...
We always conspired to assume we were strangers,
but I’ve learned to accept how very much alike we are.
And I find myself wanting ‘my’ clock back,
because it’s a Tardis, a Wardrobe.
(Those who call them travelling clocks
do not know the half of it.)
Its glass doors lead to the world
which begins with a child’s bedtime.
And like Moley, I miss my old home.
If I want such things back
and if, furthermore, I believe you could give them,
there must have been love in that house
as well as the one you went off to.
That’s all I wanted to say.
This letter is not about your leaving.
You did try dividing yourself
in order to keep things together
but it was never going to work out.
And I now understand such things better,
having wandered a few times myself
in this world of so many houses.
And I’ve been lucky of course.
Never quite had to cut cables like you did;
Just slipped anchor
and managed to fish it back later.
And so far I don’t think my children
have needed a Tardis to reach me.
Forget the clock, Dad.
Perhaps you travelled in it once yourself
and want it with you still.
Of course I’d like to have it some day,
but as you can read I have already got one.
And this letter was never about
some old clock either.
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- Journal, The
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- Modern Poetry in Translation
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- Paper, The
- Pen Pusher Magazine
- Poetry Cornwall
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- Poetry Salzburg Review
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