At the sink he perches
atop his two-stepped seat to watch
a morning routine that's utter
prose for me, discovery for him:
how I wet
the shaving brush, lather soap,
then smooth the jawline
of my beard, and how
I brush my teeth without
protest, without needing
to eat the toothpaste with each brush.
And then how I open
the mirrored cabinet and take
my pill-cutter, split
Escitalopram in two, and scoop
water into my mouth to swallow.
"What will you swallow, Dad?"
How to answer?
"Medicine," I say, "to help
the chemicals in my brain."
"Maybe," he says, "when I am bigger,
I will take some medicine too."
Oh my love. "I hope not,"
is all I can say,
"because then you won't have
the sickness I have."
And as talk turns to other
my father heart churns
with the weight of this,
while pandemic and cabin fever
test the power of the pills, the rage
of being Dad drives the nerves
that splash water on my morning face.
I’m looking forward to sharing a number of videos of poems from my upcoming book Les Feuilles Mortes in the coming weeks, including several from my friends and readers across the world. Here is the first, a letter written in quarantine to my young children.
My twin boys turn one
within our garden's walled world,
learn to navigate
and negotiate space as
leaves fall in entrancing swirls.
This poem comes from my upcoming collection “Les Feuilles Mortes”. Stay tuned for more information about the launch, or contact me to join the mailing list.
Delighted by animals, God and rain,
my son finds kinship in Noah’s ark,
commentating the story as I leaf through his Bible:
“Rain! Giraffe. Boat. Noah. Wet. Monkeys!”
How to convey what
a rainbow’s about, or how I long
for him and his brothers to be
kept safe in the ark
as the flood passes by.
After the night’s deluge, I spot
a raven atop a traffic light,
tree-branch in beak,
heralding the hope of dry land.
The lights change, I drive ahead.
No flood will overwhelm today.
This afternoon he found
some joyfully fluffy infant ducks
in a book and, excited, pointed them out:
“Clucklings!” he exclaimed, and how I wished
that our language could change
to make them be clucklings forever.
Reading a story of sloths, I asked,
“Do you think there were sloths in Noah’s ark?”
While he gave this all his toddler’s thought,
I amused myself with images of
the haste with which Noah packed the ark
the sloths sabotaging all his speed,
yet saved, thank God, all the same.
This afternoon, though I’d planned
a much-needed rest, many tasks overtook and
somewhere amidst assembling IKEA furniture I found
the afternoon gone and dusk charcoaling the sky,
so instead I walked
my toddler to the compost heap and there
we shredded paper scraps to balance the mix
and pulled weeds from the side garden while
my son trialled his latest words and declared “I want!”
as the evening air bristled and my fingers let go.
“Not too many poets has it been given…to live one of their own poems.”
(G.K. Chesterton, St Francis of Assisi)
If I would be Francis, troubadour to God,
before I can sing Creation’s canticles, I must tend
to the sleeping children in my room
and die again, again to the self
that craves to be higher than them.
Only then can poetry shine,
until then being only words.
and the laundry, piled up
in crevices and corridors as though to say,
“You can hide me, but you cannot do without me.”
Toys underfoot and books scattered wide
amongst other toddler treasures:
a measuring cup, a rooster,
a brochure considered la mode before
some other fancy flitted through the growing mind.
Some things are permanent, like
dishes, some new –
an Amen! after grace.
Unsettled nights and
teary mornings only serve to say
that all this may pass, but God
it is good that it finds me at all.
Today is perhaps the hardest day of the Christmas season, the day that remembers the story found in Matthew 2 of Herod ordering the murder of all boys under the age of 2. While this is not an aspect of the Christmas story that is often told, it finds a home in an old and melancholy song, the Coventry Carol (beautifully rendered here by the sublime Anúna). The carol, part of a medieval mystery play once regularly performed in Coventry, gives voice to three mothers who are mourning the children they will lose. Today’s poem considers these women and the promise that Jesus the Messiah would be acquainted with our griefs. It’s a story I would rather pass over, with my son only eleven weeks old as I write, but God does not pass over our deepest griefs, so I want to use this story to remind me of the fact that He hears and knows and is present in all that we cannot understand.
Come, little child,
born to die,
born to bear our griefs and die,
born to dwell with us who die,
weep with mothers now.
come dwell with us within our mess,
come hold our scars and cry our tears.
Weep with us all now.
Come, light in dark,
keep vigil now with broken hearts.
Hold all our tears within your scars
and hold us as we shake.
Not expectant last year, we met
the season with a kind of still gratitude,
quiet in the truth that what had been
had been, and was not now,
grateful for months of frozen meals
and flowers (grief and surgery have these in common),
and hopeful that the next year must
be better at least than the one soon past.
How small our hopes. This year we find
the season catch us unawares while we
play catch-up on laundry and give our days
to calming two ever-opening eyes
and settle a mind eager to consume the world.
How quickly all this opens. Even
our almond tree from last year’s spring
already bears a handful of fruit
and life will run ahead of us now,
able to walk while we dazed ones still blink.
Nothing stays still very long…
Yet there’s a baby bursting in the midst of things,
catching our sleepless summer unawares.
Even now, when an eye-blink has transfigured our house,
even now our expectation’s small.
If I, He says, can do such a miracle as this
and made it easy work,
how much more after the labor of the world?
Headphone-bound, children sing as I round the corner.
The nonchalance of late morning traffic greets
a flutter of flight – black and white feathers –
painting the street in uncontrolled strokes:
a rise, a swoop, a leap, a fall.
Ballet-graced, yet deadly in its implications:
too wild, too close to the turmoil of wheels.
Cars persevere. Children sing:
Veni Domine, et noli tardare.
O come; no delay. Around the tyre-tracks of the day,
a magpie fights death as it flies.