Two pieces about fathers and sons and one about something else

                        The Rake

Full of pink and yellow cake

I must have been sent out to play.

Another exile? my father, his back to me, muttered.

He hated it when the aunts came, upsetting my mother.

They’re forever raking over the past, I’d heard him say.

They’d drink mixed Martinis and laugh until their jaws would ache,

And then they’d row:

You’ve always such and such, they’d accuse each other.

He was inspecting the peas growing up the pea sticks;

The same things he used to beat me with.

What does it mean? Daddy; Daddy, what does it mean?

I tugged at his coat and at last he cracked a smile.

What does what mean?

That word you said- exile.

           Moreover, he had harsh words for the uncles.

           They’re raking it in – he spat it out.

           For years I thought he envied them and was bitter,

           But it wasn’t that- they were money-grubbers,

           Voting Tory, on the take,

           And that was why.

           Better to give than to receive, he’d remind me;

           You’re better off growing peas.

He picked up the rake and I cried:

What’s that for? Daddy, daddy, what’s it for?

This? he answered, sweeping the air with the flat of his hand;

This is for levelling the ground.

If it’s a broken neck you want

You’re going the right way about it.

It’s my father again, watching me

Act the giddy goat in the playground;

The wrong way up, in fact,

Hair brushing the concrete,

Corduroy shorts hanging back

Into my groin.

As the roundabout whirled me around

And out of his sight

It’s my bloody neck! I yelled



It’s that time of the night

When they come for you

No matter how quiet you are

You have still left a light

So they know that you’re there

They come for you and hammer on the door

They won’t take no for an answer

(They won’t take no answer for a no)

They won’t go away if you pretend you’re not there

They’ll pick the lock if need be

And take you away in the van

With or without violence

It’s that time of the night now

When they come for you

The lovers

I Heard A Man On The Radio Say…

I heard a man on the radio say-

Talking about the music he had listened to in his youth-

That when you are a teenager you choose-

Even though you are too young to have experienced such a thing-

To play those songs that tell of broken love affairs-

As if – no, not as if, but truly –

Lost love seems more real than anything you know-

As if those songs about love that’s over

Speak to you even though it’s before

You’ve ever had love; before you’ve ever been in love-

And, having said all that, he played

An old, familiar song,

One of those songs

In which ‘brown eyes’ rhymes with ‘goodbyes’;

‘Lovin’ heart’ with ‘torn apart’;

‘By my side’ with ‘tears I’ve cried’.

It only took three minutes to say all that.

     On the clifftop

     Through a gap between the poplars and the pines

     Beyond the miles of iron-grey sea

     The horizon glitters:

     A thin line of light you could never reach-

     No matter how young and fast you are.

     It is always just as far away;

     And it won’t come in with the tide.

In the high street

A man bent over a guitar sings, roughly, a song.

It takes you a while to recognise

Bobby Shafto’s Gone To Sea

He is playing it as if it’s a tragedy.

You drop a coin inside his hat

Say Thanks for the memory.

     Back home you turn the radio on.

     This time you hear a woman’s voice

     Telling you about mindfulness

     How it can help you to cope with painful thoughts

     You listen for a minute, switch it off

     Saying sorry but now I’m fully grown

     There’s nothing you can do for my heart of stone

You wait for the repeat, of the man

Talking about lost love and about those songs

That made melancholy sound more appealing

Than happiness or joy

When you were still a boy

                        The man on the radio was Colm Toibin- Desert Island Discs Jan 3rd 2016

Gerald Manley Hopkins


Thanks to Simon Partridge for encouraging me to re-read Hopkins. He (Hopkins, not Simon) sometimes drives me potty (“Have fair fallen, O fair, fair have fallen…”) but is wonderful when he both sings and sounds like speech. This is ‘Spring’:

Nothing is so beautiful as Spring –
   When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
   Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
   The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
   The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.
What is all this juice and all this joy?
   A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden. – Have, get, before it cloy,
   Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
   Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.
This is nothing to do with Hopkins, or with spring; more E.J.Thribb really:
            Orson Welles is dead
            Who played Othello and Macbeth
            And out of thin air conjured
                     Who kissed Eartha Kitt
                     And bit her lip so hard she bled;
                     Who has, like Prospero, abjured