The absence of a father is the source of many a boyhood wound. Here is one of those bleak memories, recalled poignantly in verse by an older Englishman of my acquaintance, who has nursed it, I guess, for very many years. Ellie and I spent a lovely day or two with the author, Bernard, and his wife at their home--at that time in Dulwich in the south of London a few years ago. We remember them most fondly...
by Bernard Battley (revised August 3, 2016)
What was it that I asked, that triggered what you said?
“I won’t be there when you grow up.” You cried.
I think I tried to comfort you, but dread
seeped in and then began to spread.
Two years later you were dead.
Two years you'd wasted on that cancer ward,
screened from your childrens’ eyes that were forbidden tears.
I grew up then, disposed to preying fears -
for teenagers can't be shielded from their grief
by banning them from their own father’s funeral:
I found, for many years, there was no relief
from seeing lookalikes in disbelief.
You used to wear a homburg hat, silk scarf,
tweed coat and those leather gloves,
(for driving in our Ford), ones in white calf –
I never ever thought my mates would laugh.
You were an elder statesman to your friends;
to me, you were my Daddy, as I call you still,
remembering weekend walks, rare holidays, your tan,
and when you taught me cricket in the sun.
I wonder if my memories are true?
So many are from fuzzy photographs.
I’m sure the bathing-suit you wore was blue,
a one-piece, like Edwardians used to do.
My mother kept your clothes as if a vow,
your suits smoke-soaked from endless gatherings.
You only smoked at Christmas: just allowed
a sole cigar – I smell it even now.