Strident laughter from you would be unusual,
your metier was irony, palpable wit, the sound
of precise language, considered and cared for,
whilst I guess that lies, debauched speech,
courtesans, umbrella stealers, too much
alcohol, chattering, bored women, expensive perfume,
grand hotels, wife-swapping and roulette were ruled out,
as were the Prince of Wales, all his mistresses,
slavery, poodles and pomanders, hypocrites
bear-baiting, cock fighting, and, had they been invented,
Mills and Boone, selfies and cell-phones.
You had to wait fifteen years to be published
so you embroidered, wrote letters in copper-plate,
played the piano and cards and blushed sometimes.
You knew you would die earlier than most.
You collected the things I love. Listening to your
laugh, enjoying your irony and falling for you
would have been easy. One look enough, one nod.
Here’s a photograph of you dancing
and singing on a rock beneath the north face
of the Vignemale; the highest point,
two sticks raised, your hair blown back
by the updraught of the columned valley;
I was the only onlooker that day
as the spiral rocks parcelled your voice
and amplified it back or caught the clack
of your sticks on the bone-hard scarp.
Your subject was the wild horses we stalked
as they scraped their backs on the cedars,
Ibex steadying as we ran toward them,
the solitary gypaete circling for marmottes;
all of it understood, but not described
as when the season drives down the snows
into rivulets and calls up twelve orders of flowers,
wild mountain strawberries and herds
of yellow-chrome butterflies nosing the Buddleia.
You could not describe but only sang out,
stepped out, with no words and only
with a scratchy out of focus chant
that split and stopped the mountain,
then fell itself silent and set you in this
charcoal square image in my fingers,
four stone-struck centimetres by four.
You never believed it, father,
the way we are conjugated
by the tenses of our hearts,
the way, one eye on syntax,
we step up and pirouette.
I was always a syllable
under your knees, a curled
finger in your fist and all
I wished was to set you free
from your stamped out nouns.
My notation discarded
under your stumbling words,
I was locked into longer
and longer clauses. Now,
face to face, we start a story
we should have finished long ago.
It’s too hot today for wind
so I take the basket outside,
stack your bills and letters on the lawn,
and out of habit, pin them down with stones.
You disappeared into asylums
when my Gran and Dad began to grind you down
and I had to grow up delivering your care
at a distance when you faded away.
All over the papers are granules of lavender,
then my school reports and finally,
in a leather case, at the bottom,
there’s me, in a cowboy suit, carrying a gun.
Clouds on the Adriatic
cold as England
and me concerned
about my flight back,
whether to ring,
find the columned basilica,
through its apocryphal tunnel
of hollowed masonry
and up there, over there,
the blue, gold mosaic icons
sunlit, somehow, from inside,
on the ceiling, the icons,
and me smiling
as if planning a journey.