I’ve never really celebrated Father’s Day. I don’t think anyone did when I was a small child and then, when it became more well-known in the UK, it was considered an American import and looked down on by my parents’ generation. Now, though, it’s almost impossible to ignore. Even when email newsletters offer the chance to opt out of Father’s Day updates, it seeps through on social media, in the news, and in shelves stacked with bottles at the supermarket.
My own father died years ago, before the turn of the century, but even now, there are many things that trigger memories of him. Sometimes simply the colour red is enough; certainly when it’s a red dragon.
(OK, that’s a damsel fly not a dragon fly, but I don’t think my father was quite as pedantic as I am.)
He was interested in optics and I have a number of magnifying glasses and lenses that were his. In a box somewhere, I have a few odd magician’s props, including a silver bell with no clapper and a penny with a huge hole in the centre. And then there are all the bits and bobs of stationery, particularly things like pen nibs, treasury tags and bifurcated paper fasteners.
I haven’t ever posted this poem on the blog, although it was written some twenty years ago, but it seems appropriate to do so now.
The jacket hangs in the corner of the wardrobe,
forgotten, shabby, slightly musty with disuse.
It is my father’s. Or should I say:
It was my father’s? He is just a memory
of those he left behind.
I pull it from its wooden hanger
and bury my face in its folds, seeking
an elusive scent, yet finding nothing
but harsh Harris Tweed against my skin
and a faint smell of dust.
I slip it on:
perhaps I will feel him hold me
as he only ever did in life
at arrivals and leave-takings:
with demonstrations of affection.
Here is no final leave-taking embrace.
Nothing but a jacket, whose sleeves reach
to my knuckles. My father is not here;
this does not bring him back,
nor make his memory more alive.
I slip my hand into the pocket
and my fingers close on something.
I take it out and roll it
in the palm of my hand.
A pencil stub, not two inches long,
sharpened carefully with his penknife;
Ready, now, for use.
Looking back, I find I did post a different version a couple of years ago, which I described at the time as prose. Comparing them now, I really do wonder if I will ever map the line between prose and poetry.