I have not, until now, tried to write about him –
our father who ought to be in Heaven –
save for a brief description of a man’s face
shortly after death. It could have been anyone’s face,
a man of any faith, no clear trace of religion,
no “about to go somewhere” face – just a
cold, grey hue, the colour of a statue, as
still as a statue, yet no solid look – more like
the delicately shaped ash of a fire gone cold,
long before it was ever old.
Ought to be in Heaven? Not a bad man but,
yes, a sad man: a man unrewarded for his
loyalty to lowly small scale sales of
office tat, of this and that, ten shilling lunches
for likely sources of ordinary orders.
And in the depths of family dysfunction, he
spoke to his customers, not so much to us;
lonely at home where there lay in wait, each night,
the itch of cash being tight, in so slow motion;
being passed over for promotion.
He rarely shared the pain, so found no ally, no
tie to others, no bond on which he might rely
to live a private life that cocked a snook at
the tawdry world outside, where he might hide
and find succour, perhaps even love of a kind.
As it was, I remember, mostly, ghost-cold indoor
freezes, heated by rows, the children in bed,
frightened by the thought that frustration might
lead to blows. One time they did, in front of us all,
in front of black flies on the wall.
Mother says he made himself ill through worry,
a sorry end to a sorry life, strife at each turn,
leaving earthly happiness aside, hoping for
some paradise at the end of it all; but
the end, once it began, was long and no-one knew
what it was – save him, who felt it deep, deep within,
saw the wood for the trees and knew he would leave
this beaten life early, the burly Reaper on his way,
scythe sharp as tongues. We heard his moans,
we heard the shrieking whetstone.
So there we are, the morning after, by the slab,
thinking of waxworks, because the nurses had
fiddled with the lines on his face – nearly enough for us to ask,
silently, is that him, surely some mistake?
A doubt for a second only, as his name is on a band,
around his wrist, in case he goes missing, perhaps?
Now he’s in the queue for those due to be readied,
for the fire or the earth. He is cold now but is down for
the fire – some colour at last (a wry irony at best),
until ash settles white and nothing else left.
Fall away cliffs close by our feet
falling away to far down distant seas
would need to fall a long way to hear
this still day’s whispering waves
waiting to roll in at the whistle of the
goading tide, pulled then pushed
then dragged by an inscrutable moon;
its magic alone at work, no arms to
swish oceans in their shelves and troughs.
Gusty winds bend backs and
drum in heads that fight for balance;
keep eyes in front, not a foot cliff-ward,
forward is the only way, the lonely way,
no slip shared, no hand to grab, no
life spared if a boot slides before the
path widens and minds unlock their
grip on tightened limbs that loosen as
eyes rise at last to racing skies.
As just a single hour scuttles by while
rain drenches, chills then, blow over,
last spills running down weathered cheeks,
the autumn sea-cool sun unveils a
coast now stretching out a full day’s march –
oh so far away – and dries, warms, restores.
bodies sense our lives’ survival; the
elements have smiled on us today, have
played with us. And tomorrow otherwise?
And so a just point jointly roots inside:
one day, some unsettled day, as
dark night must faithfully follow day, it
will be otherwise; and the wind or water will
take us – oh so very far away but where the
sun shines long each day if we earn it well,
making warmth, in our own way, on our way,
our walk along the long path, telling of
humanity, telling our connection with a
passer-by, telling the celebration to be
held each day that has ended with a
promise for the morning and the
sleep of an open soul, a humble heart.
And in that sleep we will prepare for the
warm days – now not so very far away –
foot-sure, cliff-skipping, eyes up, down,
all around, no fear, no slipping, no
vertigo, so quick, so light, walking
through the day and into night.
seabirds swoop just a yard away
but know we are there, in the same way
we have seen them all before, when the
way was slow and our bodies tired.
Those were the early days; we can play
games with them now, as the young wind
once did with us, now we are beyond
old and past the start of the new days.
And, as we’d been told, there’s no cold
in the rain and, running in and out of the storm,
our bodies bone dry and washed by the sea,
our embrace is, as always, perfectly warm –
and there a promise for all days.
Peter Taylor is a poet of four years vintage, his work focusing on links between human beings and the physical world and the enduring significance of relationships with other people and the things that surround us. He recently won the Paragram chapbook prize for his pamphlet “Perspectives from an Open Heart”.