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Tuesday, 7 June 2011

A new poem

Since I took my redundancy in January I have been able to go to my writing group, Scribblers, quite regularly again, though of course after one more session it will end again - China to Bilston is a little too far to come.
At every meeting we chat a lot but we also do a writing exercise dreamed up by one of the members. To be honest very little of what I ever produce there is a enough of a standard to progress with. It all stays in the notebooks but rarely gets developed. Tonight was different. Silvia gave us a whole selection of possible topics one of which was to describe someone by describing only his possessions. We usually have about forty minutes to do it. At the end of the forty minutes tonight I knew I had something - a little raw and unfinished true, but something. When I read it out the others thought so too.

So I've spent another hour and a half on it at home and now I really think I have something. 

This is another poem in tribute to my late father.

by his belongings

we cleared the house today
my brother and I
started with his clothes
filled plastic sacks without ceremony
talking about anything
except what we were doing

suits he'd always worn
suits he'd hardly worn
suits he'd never worn
suits he'd bought new
and suits he'd bought
in charity shops

shirts hung on hangers
shirts folded on shelves
shirts still in cellophane
old shirts secured with pins
new shirts secured
with plastic clips

three pairs of pyjamas
all striped and flannel
one of them unused
"in case I ever have
to go to hospital"
he'd always said

a suitcase full of ties
garish and bright and wide
some silk, some cotton
but he'd always worn
only one, the same one
narrow, plain and brown

we crushed them all into sacks
and moved on

in a drawer we found
nine assorted watches
four wind-up, four battery
one fob watch without a chain
all of them were broken
save that last one

every pair of glasses
he'd ever owned
in almost ninety years of life
and every pair my mother
had ten years ago left behind
never thrown away

more of my mother's things
old costume jewellery
a box of photographs
their wedding album
a pair of her gloves
too small and soft to be his

and then his papers
his army identification
with a cap badge from the HLI
a works ID from 1942
just before he'd gone to war
clock number 694

and still more papers
rent books from before my birth
my certificate for swimming
one width of the baths
my brother's school report
B-minus for his maths

there were a few books
all of them westerns
his progress marked
in precise corner creases
all of them started
none of them finished

outside we tackled the shed
every tool old, rusty, useless
and all the wooden boxes
he'd used the tools
to make the boxes
to store the tools

and then it was done
all the parts of his life
separated into piles
throw these away
give these away
keep these forever

and on top of that pile
the pile of things  to keep
that army ID card
an impossibly young man
with a short haircut
and a smile wider than his face

we cleared out the house today
my brother and I
and then we poured three beers
left one for him and drank
toasting him in silent
memory of his life

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