Father and Son

Some years after the war
you started to raise me
and I inexorably became
your new enemy.

Perhaps all sons
are their fathers’
worst nightmares
I wouldn’t know,
I have no sons
and am glad of it.
I do know that the only rehearsal
for parenthood
is childhood
and perspective changes
with height.

The new war lasted 30 years
and this time you were
in the logistics corps
You brought supplies
I took them but was training
as a double agent

Then I became my own revolutionary hero
complete with beret and beard
living naively in the hills
feeding from the land
coming down for the odd skirmish
then mountain retreating into
a confused hedonism
as I searched for my ethics.
I took a small serious part of you
and threw the rest away.

These were the seventies,
a time when watches were discarded
then re-invented digitally
only to be replaced again by hands.
We couldn’t get away from time
or history, but we tried.
There were only two sides in that war.
One side, the pioneers, mistook individuality
for purpose,
The other side, the long-settled mistook purpose
for right.

Pioneers always make mistakes

The best ones learn from them
and form a system.
The long-settled always make mistakes
because they have a system
and cannot see their weaknesses through it.
They are the same thing
and so they fight.

And we fought on different sides inevitably…..

Why does your modern son’s life
have to move so fast,
change come so quickly?
I should tell you
the boys who could be my sons now
but are not
move faster still.
We cannot stop this spinning career
towards the psychiatrist
the alternative therapist
the bottle
the needle
the battered parent
the bruised child,
the raging motorist
shooting a stranger
at the traffic lights.
Time goes quicker
and fills up
and clogs
the more we expedite things.

My mother believed in making the time
to make it right.
but with a wild and undisciplined passion
rose to the highest rank
refuting all the humbug
that precision means prowess.

In the 5th year of the campaign
you felt some difficulty
about taking orders from this field marshall
this experienced fighting woman
with a short temper and a great deal of vision.
The old battleaxe you called her, with a twinkle.
How I wish I’d taken your magnanimity
towards senior officers
as part of my legacy,
but of course I didn’t
for I was always in love
with one or other of them.
Didn’t know I was going to need a safety valve later
and for all I know your good humour
was just a front of placidity anyway.
You soon adapted to your own
little mutinous grumblings
for like me
you were in love.

They’re over now, those wars.
I’ve declared armistices
and buried my Kalashnikoff,
but I cried years of soul-shaking tears
doing it

You’ve buried your old battleaxe
in cold ground, remembering red hot love,
and are left with me,
some strange passionate thing of flesh
that you and she made together
not thinking of war.

When mother died
you removed all the pot plants
from the house
and became obsessed
with TV tag wrestling
and clearing bits of fluff
off the carpet
It was a vast impenetrable grief
I could not share with you.
Condolences for old enemies
are not easy even if truces are signed.
There’s so little in common
apart from the mirrors
of our bleak entrenched memories
and the common view of no man’s land.
My mother along the way
had hung up her chestful of medals
to become that no man’s land between us,
the woman we had in common,
the woman we shared often bitterly.

I felt release with her gone,
at last the pressure off,
for me there was no suddenly empty bed
no void in the living room,
no new silence in the kitchen like a fall of snow.
And I had my prime before me,
hair cut short for the eighties,
free enterprise, my beret gathering dust
in the cupboard.
A new order upon us of tension
and stress
and pension
and death.

I had never been to a funeral.

By way of pathetically imparting comfort
I introduced the concept of
drinking brandy
and you took to it….
not in a big way
like yours truly,
Mr. Guerilla excess-in-everything,
but in a moderate
considered way, and it pleased me
that perhaps it let you feel
the rest of your life a little
as well as that heart of it
cut right out
at the base….
such a sudden skillful cut…..
….it only takes seconds with a sharp knife
in the right hands
to remove most of two people….

I would ask you,
though I suspect I’m beginning to know,
What’s it like having another person
etched into you
illustrating you?
Another being
as the statement of you?
Where had my father gone
eight years before my birth?

One day I came in and
there was a stranger
sitting there
in your leather armchair
I didn’t recognise…
I concluded it must be
a man gone off archtypically hunting….
a hunter home from the hill
before he fathered me..
Small wonder I couldn’t know him.
Small wonder I once even questioned
where I came from.

When you buried your old battleaxe
I think your personality returned
from 38 years of exile.
What a changed place
your body must have been to live in,
What wonderful and disturbing things had happened there….
all those children and grandchildren!
Did you have a hand in all that?

And being so used to
that body’s endless strength…
when it started failing
to run up mountains
what strange new power

You found a new wife
but there could never be another field marshall
and you were now too grown up to take orders.

This time you held on
to a little part of yourself
and offered the rest
to be transformed and moulded
in the great and painful tectonic settling
of compromise
upon companionship.

We are Father and Son.
We can heap more blame
more anger
more pride
more praise on each other
than anyone else comes near.

I call it blood love
not a love of blood
and though I came from a battling
I thirst for peace
and am a heavy drinker
when I find it.

I will bury your old frail body one day.
When I do
I’ll remember being carried
high high on its strong shoulders
a little glimpse of the perspective
to come
for a tiny timid
blonde creature
who didn’t know what was coming
but who knew your physicality as one thing
that would always be there.

























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