My father was
an attempt to understand my father
I was seven when I first met my father,
His exile abroad beginning before my birth.
He seemed to be a giant, taller than the village gates,
waiting, I believed, at the arrivals’ doors
to welcome us into his world of snow and ice.
He did not smile, led us straight out into the night,
the unlit chambers of his shuttered temple.
My father was a dark room in the cellar of a dark house, skinned within skins, no light of himself, his heart allowed to seep out into the thick gloomed air. What did he think when he stepped from the wet street down the stairs to the boarded door, above which was painted, in bright pink lettering, the handiwork of the landlord’s daughter, “The Haven”, behind which his family cowered, afraid to look at his damp face? And behind which, no matter how many lights were turned on, how high the fire, it was always night, always cold.
My father was a cell in a prison, surrounded by prisons,
each as tall as him, each as dark,
their walls merging, arms wrapped around each other,
trying to keep themselves warm,
their fatherhood stifled
as they negotiated with the truth
of being strangers in an unwelcoming land,
chased through the gloamed streets,
dog shit smeared on their kicked in doors,
windows broken, taped and re-taped.
Through this he remained tall,
but inside, carefully shuttered, he was shattered,
spirit a shell, disconnected from his country’s beat,
the routes back to his mother’s blood severed,
a stranger to his wife and children.
My father was a dark room, into which he would drag us one by one, and we would emerge fractured, his monstrous hands smug, hydrants of hatred, as they smashed into our flesh, his whiskey breath cold, full of the absence of love. He lay among us afterwards, his scent of hawthorn infecting us with the plague, and we, fearful of death, his fists quivering even as he slept, did not move despite the pain.
He is no longer here.
We are safe.
This is an extremely painful and cathartic poem. I cannot imagine the pain and the terror. The last line is hopefully an ending.
I am trying to learn how to forgive, Pilgermann, and this is one of my poor attempts to understand the man who was my father.
This is very heavy stuff, B and a courageous post. However, judging by the work you have previously posted it seems to me you know him better than you think.
I know the scars never leave us but I hope the pain has gone.
Hi, G. I’ve been gathering the parts of this poem for a while, and it was a phone call with my mother which hastened it to its final form. My mother doesn’t talk much about the past, and she has forgiven, whatever that means, the man who was my father. For me the door to the closed room has been slowly opened, a crack at a time, and these poems are the fruit of that opening as I deal with the detritus of what is there.
I wholeheartedly agree with Pilgermann and hope it is cathartic in a courageous way as Guaj said.
It is proving to be cathartic, IYP. Thank you.
As a poem this is (to me) brilliant, casting a light into a very dark place; and I can only applaud the honesty with which it deals the pain of absent love – replaced by cruelty. It caused me to question, if he was of the generation that came through WW2? I know my father and that of my wife never fully recovered from it – not that it is an excuse, as many others did manage to rebuild their lives. Thanks for this.
Dougie, thanks for the comments. It took a while for the final shape to emerge. The past has to be dealt with so that it colours us in the right way, and we do not end up as “damaged goods”. My father lived through the Indian partition and no doubt witnessed many horrors, but the cruelty he then wore cannot fully be laid at that door.