A small bird
On a narrow branch
Where pale new leaves are springing.
Will her soft feathers
Withstand the winter wind;
Does her timid, unpractised eye
Spy the fat, fallen grain
And is her grip secure
When the bough bends beneath her?
Would that I
Could cradle her
Forever in my hand,
Shield her from foul weather
And the wickedness I see.
But more than that
I would watch those hard-won wings –
As yet untried, hesitant, uncertain in their strength –
Unfurl and catch the breeze
So that her song and colours
May brighten all the world.
We’re painting her bedroom. The little-girl pink
That she’s had on her walls ever since she was six
Has to go, we’ve been told. But it seems they don’t mix
Shades that truly reflect how fourteen-year-olds think.
There’s an ocean of blues and a wide yawn of beige:
Peach, magnolia, lavender, calicos, creams.
Way too placid and pale for her dramas and dreams;
Far too subtle and soft for this high-contrast age.
We need tones more in tune with our turbulent teen:
Let’s have Coffee Stain skirtings, the door Dark Despair;
An Apple White ceiling, one wall Gothic Nightmare,
All the others a deep shade of Whatever Green.
Slap on Intense Emotions with Angst as a base:
A tin of Wild Hormones stirred up with a stick;
Then a bucket of Drama Queen – lay it on thick –
And to finish, a top coat of Personal Space.
But she blazes with colours that they’ll never sell:
The glow of her temper, the gleam in her eye.
She’s our gold, our red sunset, the blue in our sky.
In her rainbow’s a covenant. And all will be well.
She can’t abide my music: ‘It’s so sad,”
She groans, “embarrassing, old stuff.”
I start a disc, she stops her ears: “NO, Dad!”
A single bar of some tracks is enough
To send her running from the room. So now
I guess it will be years before we see
Things quite the same way, and I wonder how
And where we’ll differ (not just musically)
These songs sit at the heart of who I am:
I won’t forsake my country, rock or folk.
There’s nothing in the charts now worth a damn:
Those ‘talent contest’ winners – what a joke.
But give it time: I know that she’ll come round
And recognise my tastes as truly sound.
I wanted to end the week on a bit of a lighter note, and my beloved daughter gave me all the material I needed en route to her piano lesson this afternoon.
The day that I left, I came out here
Alone, to the woods. As I stared
Through the trees, felt the summer breeze stirring,
I gazed into myself and declared:
“Don’t ever forget where you come from:
This new life that you’re ready to start
Will be full of things trying to persuade you
They’re important. Stay true to your heart
And this place: what’s around you now matters:
It’s unchanging and won’t let you down.
So remember – these trees, fields and hedgerows
Will be here when the bright lights of town
Have grown dim, and you’re starting to wonder
Why the cash and the company car
Aren’t enough to make life worth the living
And you’re no longer sure who you are.”
And I proved myself right. So I come back
When I can, just to walk here, and grieve
For that lost self – the boy from the country
Who, in truth, never wanted to leave.
Went for a long walk with the whippet yesterday in some beautiful woods not far from my parents’ place. Haven’t been there in ages, but it was just like old times – in so many ways. N.
Ho-heave-ho and haul away –
No tie required – way-hey!
For half-term’s here, and pirate gear
Is the order of the day.
With a yo-ho-ho it’s off you go
All rigged for the Spanish Main –
In your old ragged shirt and sword-belt girt
Ann Bonny walks again!
Fifteen men on the dead man’s chest –
These are the times that we love the best,
When you’re still young enough for this dressing-up stuff
But the day brings its own quiet warning:
For the time’s going by like the cannonballs fly
When the men-o’-war meet for slaughter
Then what shall we do for a pirate daughter
Ear-ly in the mor-ning?
May you always hold, like a pirate’s gold,
Onto all that you’ve done today;
May your flag always fly in a clear blue sky,
And fair winds blow you on your way.
May a fine, gallant crew sail along with you
To wherever the world may spin you;
With a yo-ho-ho, don’t you ever let go
Of the pirate spirit in you.
Our daughter’s school has just installed some new playground equipment, including a climbing-frame in the shape of a ship. To celebrate its inauguration, the children were allowed to go to school dressed as pirates; my wife conjured a costume out of charity-shop odds and ends, and the girl looked fantastic. She goes up to secondary school in September, which means there won’t be many more days like this, so I’ve marked the occasion with a sea-shanty. There’s a first time for everything!
The swifts do not debate: they will depart,
Though summer still lies soft on England’s fields,
For stormy seas and distant shores. Its heart,
Touched by September frosts, the great oak yields
Its crown and glory to decay; the rose
Gives up its scent, lets its bright colours run
Without regret, and vast, all-conquering snows
Surrender meekly to the reborn sun.
So who am I to wish to stop the wheel
And hold her always in this time, this age?
I must seek out that secret strand of steel
Within, accept this turning of the page.
This is her time to run, to fly, to grow;
And mine to learn to live with letting go.
Playing for time
Thrown together for a weary Sunday
We dug out flute and fiddle,
Coaxed the stand from its collapsed-umbrella tangle
And played dance music
Nine times older than her ten
And my forty-something years combined.
Splitting first and second parts unselfishly,
Spinning the simple, timeless tunes
From breath and horsehair,
Varnished wood and tarnished silver,
Our thoughts as closely mingled
As our blood.
All too soon
To be in the same room
As me may be
More than she can bear.
But in all the discord
Of our crescendos, fortissimos
And silences where no one’s sure
If they should clap
Or dare to cough
The neutral notes and impartial time
Will be our arbiters;
A shared and secret language for us, free
Of should and shan’t and
A separate space outside of life
Where all is sweet,
And we can stay in tune.