I do not remember
ever holding his hand,
only the dart and jab
over the dinner table,
my father slipping like a fish
flick, twist, left, right,
turncoat, backpedaller
for the joy of argument,

his scarred sailor’s hands
gentle with the tiller,
and the slap of waves
on the boat’s side,
the snap of sails
as we turned the mark,
blaring if I pulled the jib too soon
and caught the dinghy head to wind,

gibing at Shakespeare,
poetry, the Bible,
though he could cap
any parson’s quotes,
but no gentleness in words,
no answers for my seeking,
only the skirmish of debate
or silence.

But at news of my marriage
he rushed for bagpipe music,
broke open the Fiorelli’s plonk,
and now his quiet eagerness
to show my son
how to tie ropes, cut wood,
the two of them, the same square hands,
slipping a ship into a bottle,

and I remember that he took
the stairs three at a time,
coming home from the sea,
and toboganning, tucked me inside
his board-thick bonfire-coat
his arms around me,
guiding the sled down
the white dip of snow.

Charlotte Clutterbuck

Posted on  –  June 24, 2023