Tag Archives: Father’s Day

My father’s hands

Photo Credit Pavlofox on Pixabay

As today is Father’s Day, I’m posting this poem by Kathleen Kummer. Here she combines the personal and the public, with her reference to the miners’ strikes and the General Strike of 1929.

My father’s hands

For a short time they handled a pencil, maybe
a squeaky one on a slate. Abruptly,
they, they found themselves grasping a pick
in the dark. When the strikes came, obedient,
they downed their tools and, at street corners,
were clasped and breathed into for warmth,
patted the greyhound of a mate waiting
for the pubs to open. They withdrew their labour
from the mine owner once and for all
in the General Strike of 1929.
In the next phase, though, still handling the black stuff,
they weighed it, bagged it, loaded it onto
the back of a lorry. Then it was clay pipes
instead of coal, contorted monsters,
drab, glazed brown, easily chipped.

This is the time from which I remember
those hands, their dull sheen, as if
sanded down, the skin agonisingly tight,
with cracks, near the nails, manicured with a penknife,
not made for tenderness and caresses,
but good safe hands to be held in.

Last night, as I warmed my hands at the fire,
I winced at the memory of his, held so close
to the flames and hot coals, they almost touched
so cold, they could never again be warm.

Father’s Day

Vader

 

My father died a few weeks after his 75th birthday in October, 1990.  He had a talent for music: singing in and conducting choirs, and playing the church organ for many years. Here is a picture of him as a young man: a somewhat anxious look, wanting to do a good job of transporting my mother and me safely.

The poem Prelude and Fugue was published in the anthology, Poems from the Readaround, Tarantula Press, 1995.
Prelude and Fugue

I enter and dare a glance at your effects –
straight rows of books in alphabetical order
the white board emptied
pens and pencils (four of each)
manuscript paper and a rubber
on the Yamaha
You were filling in the bass line

Music for a while shall all your cares beguile

You kept some organ pipes in the loft.
You were going to build one.
What happened to those when you moved
into the flat?

Sometimes I turned the pages for you
feet darting across the pedals
When I was twelve I left the choir
and gave up singing

Your black shoes scuffed at the side

The Catholics paid best you said
a bonus for weddings and funerals

Poetry as Survival

Last week on a writing workshop with Ann Sansom I read Poetry as Survival during my free afternoons.  In this book Gregory Orr, the author of many highly praised poetry collections, explores how writing, reading and listening to lyric poetry has enabled people to confront, survive, and transcend suffering.

In the introduction, Orr writes: When I was twelve years old I was responsible for a hunting accident in which my younger brother died.  Two years after this accident, Orr’s mother died suddenly, aged thirty-six, after a “routine” hospital procedure. A few years later, he experienced further trauma as a volunteer for the Civil Rights movement, including being abducted at gun-point and being held in solitary confinement for eight days. Orr then discovered poetry: I knew that if I was to survive in this life, it would only be through the help of poetry.

I gained a great deal from the book, especially the first part. Here Orr uses examples from around the world and from all ages to illuminate how lyric poetry helps us to find solace. Theodore Roethke’s poem My Papa’s Waltz was written in the late 1940s, a child’s encounter with violence. Below is my own poem along these lines, dedicated to my father who died in 1990:

Propulsion

When I was a child I was scared
of him – the biting voice,
the it’s never good enough look.

I saw the crack in the cupboard door,
the oak dining chair with kelim seat
that he threw with his right hand.

Over breakfast my parents
flung cutlery at each other,
then the metal teapot.
Wall-paper stained brown.

Tonight, I sift photos in my head,
see a scared young man
alongside the mother
who preferred his dead sister.