Tangerines

by Hugo Williams

Before the war was once-upon-a-time
In 1947. I had to peer through cigarette smoke
To see my parents in black and white,
Lounging on zebra skins, while doormen
Stood by doors in blue-grey uniforms.

Nightclubs were darkened rooms, like mine,
Where my parents stayed up so late
It was light outside when Tony and Mike
Rode their bicycles into the lake.

I wished I was alive before the war,
But after the war was where I had to stay,
Upstairs in the nursery, with Nanny
And the rocking-horse. It sounded more fun
To dance all night and fly to France for breakfast,
But after the war I had to go to bed.

In my prisoner’s pyjamas I looked through
Bannisters into that polished, pre-war place
Where my parents lived. If I leaned out
I could see the elephant’s foot
And a round mirror which bulged from time to time
With hats and coats and shouts,
Then emptied like a bath.

Every summer my parents got in the car
And went to the South of France.
I longed to go with them, but I was stuck
In 1948 with Nanny Monkenbeck.

They sent me sword-shaped eucalyptus leaves
And purple, pre-war flowers, pressed
Between the pages of my first letters. One year
A box of tangerines arrived for me from France.
I hid behind the sofa in my parents’ bedroom,
Eating my way south to join them.