Bank Holiday weekend gives me the opportunity to write an extra blog post.
While looking for something else entirely in my old files a few days ago, I came across a series of short prose pieces; I had forgotten writing them, but recognised them all, as they were based – some quite closely – on free-verse poems I’ve written.
One piece in particular has gone back and forth between poetry and prose a number of times since it originated as a children’s story nearly thirty years ago, being adapted to different forms and lengths depending on how and where I was going to use it.
That was the piece I was actually looking for, as I now want to see if it might work as a song. But my hunt through old files didn’t reveal the version in rhyming couplets that I know exists somewhere: perhaps I will just have to re-create it yet again.
Anyway, there were other pieces in this forgotten file, including one based on a poem written after my father’s death.
It took several years before I was really ready to write poems about my father and, since then, this particular anecdote has gone through several revisions. Early on – in poem form – it was a runner-up in a competition, but I have continued to worry at it and I know that I still haven’t quite managed to do what I want with it. Perhaps that’s why I tried it in prose.
While clearing out, I find the jacket hanging in the corner of the wardrobe. Forgotten, shabby, slightly musty with disuse. It’s my father’s.
Perhaps I should say I say it was my father’s. Now, he only exists in the memories of those of us he left behind.
I pull the jacket from its wooden hanger and bury my face in its folds, hoping to find some memory-evoking scent. But there’s nothing there. Just the harsh feel of Harris Tweed against my skin and a faint smell of dust.
I slip it on. Perhaps I’ll feel him hold me as he only ever did in life at arrivals and leave-takings. (Our family has never been over-generous with demonstrations of affection.)
But no. It’s simply a jacket, slightly too big, the sleeves reaching to my knuckles. My father isn’t here; it can’t bring him back, nor make his memory more alive.
As I stand, longing for an unreachable past, I slip my hand into the pocket and my fingers brush against something smooth. I take it out and look, rolling it in the palm of my hand.
A pencil stub, barely two inches long: the kind he always carried; sharpened carefully with his penknife; ready for use.
Still wearing the jacket, I sit down at my desk, reach for a sheet of paper, and start to write.