and in the shop…
“The Art of Unpicking”
My absent father’s propped on the sideboard.
A man of shadows, grey on grey. ‘Handsome,
your dad!’ says gran, giving him a dust.
‘A gentleman. Such a wonderful dancer!’
He sends me aerograms, always in capitals,
I tell him I do joined-up writing now.
He draws me the geckos on his walls
I ask when he’s coming home.
One day there’s a black metal box in the hall,
his name painted in white. I practise the word
lieutenant then look at the photo again.
He’ll be in khaki now. Medals on his chest.
A telegram comes. Five words. His arrival.
Which train. Mum makes for the station.
Returns alone. I’m glued to the window.
Can it be him? This man, unlatching our gate?
Before he can knock, the door opens. They’re
clasped and in tears. The man of shadows
has frown-marks, a bristly moustache.
When he holds out his arms I hang back.
Chat and more chat. I try on his puttees.
Can we open the box? The lid creaks, swings
back. He’s lifting out tin after tin of Navy Cut.
Fry’s chocolate, the first I’ve had.
He gives me a pale leather shoulder bag.
Mum has a writing-case and a many-armed
wooden goddess. Should it be in the house?
Gran’s never seen the like.
I’m twisting the gold on my elephant-hair
bangles. I take them to bed with a fistful
of annas and paise. Change from the market.
Before the bomb struck. Lifted him off his feet.