The picture shows me and my parents at a dinner to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary in 1984. At Christmas 1988 I became the scapegoat for the difficult circumstances around my sister leaving her husband. My father, my brother and that husband were all called Theo. My sister was living with someone else by then.
So, one Theo told me off for keeping in touch with that Theo and the third Theo collected me from my parents’ flat and took me to the airport. My father and I became estranged. Late September 1990 my father was taken to hospital after a suspected heart attack. He was doing okay, my brother told me, no need to rush and book a flight. Two days later my father died in hospital, instantly, after a large heart attack.
Almuerzo con mi padre
My father’s eyes behind the spectacles sparkle.
There’s wisdom in his moustache,
and dreams of fino sherry, chilled in a thin glass.
There would be time to wait and wander,
criss-cross a square, look at people,
the statue of a famous general on his horse.
The dead will be around us on the hills that hold the city.
My father claps his hands, decides where we will eat.
He’s learned his Spanish from reel-to-reel Linguaphone.
I’m online with Duolingo: Vino tinto, pan, conejo.
My father would have found it hard to choose
between the crema catalana and helada.
His moustache would have selected ice cream.
The first June weekend here in Holland is wet and windy: a perfect time to remember strawberries. My local supermarket has them on special offer this week, along with discounts on raspberries and watermelon.
During my childhood I lived in a small town further north, a couple of miles from the beach, and also close to the chimneys of the steelworks. Walking home from school my friend Nellie I and would take the long route, along the small harbour. We would pass the rear entrance to the covered market. I have a vivid image of a line of small horse-drawn carts, loaded with punnets, punnets full of strawberries …
The strawberries of my childhood
were like my favourite grandmother,
soft, a rosy smell, a taste that stayed
with you on the way to school.
Those strawberries were red,
not like the winter swedes
which are a red stone,
are purple with anger.
Strawberries entered our home
first in paper bags, then as June grew
in oblong wicker punnets. Then we ate
them for breakfast and for lunch, pressing
them with a fork on sliced white bread.
You could stroke the strawberries
of my childhood. They were company,
like cats, purring gently even when asleep.
Small green stalks their whiskers, and warm.