started 2000, finished 2019
for W.C., who encouraged me to finish what I’d started
My daddy was Irish and famous – “Well, sort of Irish
and sort of famous,” he said – and told the truth.
He loved and he was loved, and was a joker,
and in his youth
he’d passed the eleven-plus with such high marks
they’d sent him to private school (plush lawns, straw hats)
but then he’d felt “oppressed by the Oxbridge conveyor”
so that was that
for years, while he wrote in garrets and took “real jobs”:
porter on Jersey, bank clerk. He explored
the world, and then read English up at Leicester,
then at Oxford,
and won awards, and “found” he was getting in print,
but still worked summers at Leicester station goods-yard.
“Am I as bright as you, Daddy?” “Probably not.”
So it was hard
not to pine for all he represented
on access visits, and not to be beguiled,
but I knew I wasn’t as special, that I was
an anxious child
who liked to play with marbles on his own,
while Mum cooked, watched EastEnders, tidied up.
Who teachers said should “come out of his shell”.
Who had a pup
and made her his best friend, and got in trouble
for daydreaming, and caused too much of a fuss
about his distant dad. Who scrapped. Who failed
and went to a comprehensive where he learned
never to try too hard. Who knew his place
was in the middle. Who watched his lurch-drunk father
jab at the face
of a steadfast woman patently too good
to stay with him. (She didn’t.) Who wouldn’t become
a poet and scholar too, or much at all:
he was too dumb.
Who later found the custody-hearing documents
while helping his mother clear her fusty attic:
the affidavits of all his dad’s ex-lovers,
that I’m sure the child’s interests are best served
by being kept from this abusive man,
a drunk who bullied and hit me; his arrest statement
from when my nan
lost her front teeth (I hadn’t been told the reason).
Until then, I’d seen one short, partial report
to which my father had clung. Mum had buried
and Nan was now in her functional little urn.
And I was trying to be like him – a bit,
in fewer and fewer ways – and started a poem
and this is it.