My father was insatiable salt, pickled
against his maimed leg and mislaid love
with litres of cheap whisky, smoked
joint after joint until the cabin was a cave
and there he squatted by the fire
trying to make sense of shadows.
He was man out of time, could have been
a great victor—dragged his mauled corporeality from the fray of horse
and mud and sword into the heroic—now only ridiculous
in the mirror, a limping giant left smashed
by the roadside while history sped off
without a backward glance.
Still, he had his man-out-of-time personality:
stalked the dark depths of himself
like a ferocious deep sea fish, baited
women with his charm, the glittering dangled light
drew them through black water, through the maw
of his misery, past the laced tongue
of his anger until they were in too deep —
Snap! Off with their heads!
Snap! Off with mine!
It grew back so many times I was
a cat with nine lives balanced on the wave-beaten gunwale
as we fled and fled and fled
from his father his mother his happy-faced family
in the clench-shouldered house in Highgate and that wild spring
heath of the Sixties he strode as my mother’s lover
and how that brief lucid spring
ended one morning in a helmet viscous with blood
ended one morning with this,
our endless wandering in the cave of love.
Travels with My Father
1 May 2017