Progress

CHRIS BARRETT

 

April 2013

 

Evening comes to the spring sky

we can see jaggedly through

cold grey buildings, tied down with pipes.

A bird flies past into the sun we cannot see.

‘Ruskin Park is just round the corner’.

My father knows Ruskin Park,

knows Denmark Hill,

knows all the routes and roundabouts

that lead away from here.

Yet his pale blue eyes show

he cannot take them, cannot go now.

His swollen legs would not carry him round Ruskin Park,

would not let him see the living green trees,

the allotments full of vigour and the same old hope.

His breath is short and weak.

The nurse comes and does little for his dignity.

A catheter, a backless robe.

He looks into the beautiful evening sky

and says little of meaning.

 

2007

 

Our bean poles stand firmly planted,

the seeds to come.

Years have passed since we played here,

treading down the soft-turned earth that fed

the green-crunch runner beans.

Now, under trains running rattling at the back,

I start to grow vegetables again.

In the late spring sun,

my father ties the poles together,

Remembering as he goes.

Midway through he stumbles, and falls.

A long second’s struggling,

but he can’t get up.

I offer him my open hand, silently.

We make no more of it,

and bury the coming future for another day.

 

1980s

 

It wasn’t until later, when my parents had more money,

that my father bought a two-volume dictionary,

sent from Oxford, the thinnest paper, tiny type.

Even then he used the other, older one,

the one he’d taught us how to use.

A torn dustcover, faded from the sun,

finger prints had left their marks

from constant use.

I’d thank my father, if I still could,

for not telling me the answers,

for sending me alone

wandering across the old pages,

in search of one thing, then another and another,

infrequent illustrations if I was lucky.

This book, having outlived him,

carries this delicate memory

of a beginning for me.

 

‘Progress‘ received a Special Mention in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (May 2017)

 

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