swallowing the hook

I liked to ride with him out to the river
the fisher king, the life and death giver
with his flies and his floats and his stale white bread
his fish blood hands and his fish blood head

I liked to lie in the grass half asleep
and watch his fishing line flick and leap
as the wide river slid and the fat sun thinned
and the maggots keened softly in their little round tin

now I’m old like you and I live by the sea
and the same fish swim out to look for me
It’s true, I tell them, I’m the son of the king
I’ve swallowed the hook, so reel me in

IMG_1031

tangled up in brown

I let myself in with the key from the keysafe.
‘Hello? Jack? It’s Jim, from the hospital…’
The bungalow is profoundly quiet, a heaviness to the air, cloying top notes of sweat and something else, the noxious atmosphere accentuated by the solitary drilling of a fly. Curtains drawn, a soupy brown half-light through drawn curtains. A door at the far end of the hallway standing open.
‘Hello…?’
Into the bedroom. The single bed on my immediate left rumpled up, nothing on it but a soiled bottom sheet, rucked up with a bias to the left; the contents of the side cupboard spilled or spilling; a chaotic pattern of smeared brown stains on the white wardrobe doors and across the floor – and then Jack, naked, lying on his back on the floor beside the bed, a lit desk lamp clutched to his chest, the cord tangled around his arms and legs. At first I think he’s dead, but then I notice a trembling in his abdomen, intermittent breaths, and when I touch him on the shoulder nearest to me, he shudders, opens his eyes and stares straight up at the ceiling, smiling in a beatific way, as if the touch was the answer to a long vigil of prayer.

I call for an ambulance once I know he’s breathing and stable. Even though they say they’ll do their best to get here quickly, and despite his poor condition and the likelihood of a long lie, he’s still only a medium priority and there’s a chance the ambulance may get diverted to something else. In the meantime I set about trying to assess Jack more thoroughly, and make him more comfortable. I put blue overshoes on, a plastic apron, gloves, and set to work. I turn off the lamp and gently disentangle him from the lead. After a quick top-to-toe that seems to exclude any obvious fractures, I use whatever pillows and bedding I can find to put under and around him to ease his position. I run a quick set of obs. I’m just about to go into the kitchen to find a beaker for water when Jack’s son Joe arrives. Joe is shocked by his father’s condition, but he manages to contain it for the future in the cause of setting things right in the present.
‘He was fine when I put him to bed at half seven last night,’ he says, putting on the overshoes and gloves that I give him, then helping me shift the furniture around to make room for the ambulance crew. ‘He’s had this UTI recently. The antibiotics haven’t been touching it. He was hallucinating about cats last night. He said the house was full of ‘em. I was going to talk to the doctor today to see what the plan was.’
He looks down at his father, and shakes his head.
‘Why didn’t you press your button, dad?’
Jack opens his eyes again and makes some incomprehensible sound.
‘He’s pretty dehydrated. I was going to give him some water,’ I say. ‘It’ll have to be in a beaker, though. His blood pressure’s quite low and I’m wary of sitting him up too much.’
‘I’ll see if he’s got one somewhere,’ says Joe, and pads off into the kitchen to find one.
Meanwhile I fill a basin with soapy water, get some dry wipes out of my bag and start cleaning Jack up. He’s in a terrible state. I’m guessing he must have had several episodes of diarrhoea through the night, the smear marks on the floor and wardrobe where he scrabbled around ineffectively. His hands are caked, his long nails thickly rimed, his body filthy – even the lamp is covered in smeary hand prints where he’s hugged it over night – for warmth, or light, it’s impossible to say.
I start work on his face and hands.
The ambulance arrives.
A paramedic walks into the room, clutching a clipboard.
‘Oh my good God!’ he says. And then, looking at my apron and overshoes, adds: ‘I don’t suppose you’ve got any more of those, have you…?’

shed head

I was thinking of writing a sequence of poems about Dad’s shed.

Okay. I know how lame that sounds. It’s not a subject that leaps up on the table with jazz hands. But honestly – there’s so much to say about that shed. It was so much more than a rickety old hut he knocked up one weekend. It became his place of retreat, his sanctuary. The one place he could be alone, and sit at his workbench with a cup of tea, and stare through the windows into the garden, and wonder how the hell he’d got there.

We’d started off in London, in a much smaller flat above a flower shop in Pimlico – which sounds ludicrously Ealing Studios, especially given the old woman who lived immediately below us, banging on the ceiling with a broom handle and running a pair of scissors down the prams in the hallway. When things got too much, Dad took a job that came with a house, at a printing works in Wisbech, Capital of the Fens, (I’m guessing when they awarded the title the only other place in the running was a cluster of apple shacks). The house was bigger than the London flat, but the kids kept coming – so relentlessly you’d think it was by some other, novel process, like vegetative budding – until we’d outgrown the new place but couldn’t afford anything else. So a three bedroomed house had to accommodate six children and two adults, and occasional visits from Grandma, sleeping on a zed-bed behind the sofa. If you imagine someone lifting the roof off, cramming us all in, then slamming the roof back on and sitting on it like the lid of an overfilled suitcase, arms and legs sticking out of the windows, you’d be close. If it wasn’t for the fact the garden backed onto woods, apple orchards and playing fields, we’d have gone completely insane.

So without anywhere else to go, the shed became Dad’s sacred retreat. And even though it was made of scavenged wood, with a door so thin if a wolf came by he wouldn’t need to huff and puff, he could force entry with one paw whilst innocently inspecting the nails on the other – in our minds it was something much more, something powerfully and spiritually aligned with the essence of Dad, as brightly as the rows of jars of odds and ends with their bolts and screws and panel pins and nails of every size, ingeniously fixed by their caps to the undersides of the shelves he’d put up, and his tools, sitting in their outlines like they’d burned their shapes onto the hardboard by sheer force of utility, and that single bulb hanging from the ceiling hook like a torturer’s light, with a rough tin shade cut from an oil can. All these things. So utterly DAD.

And then one day, he’s gone. The shed falls to ruin. And I drive over to pull it all down and throw it in a skip.

So maybe, somewhere amongst all the spiders and Pifco torches with the corroded points and the drawers filled with anonymous crap, maybe there is a poem or two to be salvaged.

But a sequence?

 

Speaking of poems about sheds

Here’s the latest:

hermes
Genesis

There’s also a new post in ‘Voices’: Daisy D.

Thanks for reading!

sig

genesis

it was me
I did it
I destroyed Dad’s shed
(cut myself on a nail
goddammit
serves me right
blood all down my shirt
bloody shed murderer)

anyway, I had some right
being there at the begatting
forty years ago
Dad scavenging planks from pallets
at the printers where he worked
grimace & purpose of Noah
an eye on the sky
& a fiver for the lads
to drop it all round
and when he had enough
nailing them up, quick, ship-lap style
a couple of windows
real glass, putty of aniseed
speculative press in the corner
inviting a bridge of thumbs
across the divide

but now those hands
rest in the ground
empty as gloves
and here I am
bloodied and breathless in the ruined ribs of it all
the fucked felt, the fossilised tins
nails and screws and useless things
the wormy bench, the rusted saw
and look – a square of green rubberhermes
an offset image of Hermes
no doubt from the printing
of some catalogue
I take it inside
hold it up to a mirror
to read the backwards writing
only subsequently
do I become aware
of my face behind it
suddenly a lot like yours

leaping the loops

when Dad mowed the lawn
and I was a kid
I used to play a game
leaping the loops
made by the cable
as he walked up and down
‘Mind out!’
he’d shout
But I never did

These days, I’ve lost count
of all the electrical equipment I’ve seen:
sanders, drills,
computers, lathes,
compactors, fans.
The ventilator
Dad was on
before he was gone
from that particular machine

but you can over-think these things
so here are a few facts worth keeping:
there are no straight lines in nature;
energy can be neither created nor destroyed
but is interchangeable;
lawns get mown
when the grass has grown,
and loops are for leaping

fishing trip

sometimes dad took me fishing
to his favourite spot
the south bank of the river
opposite the old brewery

we’d cycle over there
set up on the bank
and sit side-by-side
minding the floats
thumbing bread into pellets
(one for me, one for the fish)
the river and the morning
sliding past

it was quite a spot
thrilling, in a groin-aching way,
to feel such a bulk
of water running
so close to my feet

we’d sit for hours
till dinnertime at least
not saying much
putting my ear
to the grill
of the maggot tin
to hear them rustling
or shielding my eyes
from the sun
to watch the swifts
flash low on the water
dipping, turning
embroidering the air
with their screams

strange, to think dad
was my age then
he seemed so old
such a part of things
stranger still to think he’s dead
or that anyone dies, come to that
lying awake at night
going over thingsbrewery
how a river feels
sliding just a hand’s width
from the waggling
soles of my boots