poetry

Sheffield

 – for my father –

I remember the
medicine bottle.
A spiral grows from the
plastic cap, like DNA.

You used them for
hooks, sinkers and
swivels.

I dug through your red
bag of tackle, rolled
like a scroll.

Velcro cracks as
I peel it. Grains of
beach sand dance on
the plastic skin.

My fingers skip like an
excited jeweller. I hold
a grey weight in my hand.

I looks like a battered pyramid,
scars and scrapes
drawn into geography.

Under the butt there is a
metal loop to tie your line.

“This weight is for the sea.”
My father’s voice turns the
tide of my thoughts.

He tells me the pointed end
digs into the sand.
It holds the bait
that flies a bloody flag.

I finger 2 long
lead weights. dead weight.

Ten years on I can still
feel those dense shapes
in the oyster of my palm.

I can feel the smile spill
through the shrub of your beard.
I can smell the scent of a wooden path.

Brown arms become bronze,
Sea and sweat stick to our stories.
Have I become a fisherman?

Well, almost.

 

 

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Articles, Reviews

words for my father

Father Ballam hooking a big one.

My father is a warrior on many levels. He has risen up through the blizzard of a divorce. He soldiered through his own dyslexia and the currents of a busy family to conquer his Masters in Philosophy. (I better have another drink here this is starting to sound like a damn eulogy…and the bugger is still alive!) Allow me to reel this story in, the way one would clasp the steel nub of a coffee grinder’s arm. I can sum up my father in three words…

Fishing. Philosophy. Ideas.
These are the forces that drive him. They propel him onto the cold mud of a riverbank or into the furnace of concepts jostling in an academic paper. I know when he starts his 5 o’clock mornings ( a ritual the family has grown accustomed to), he first rustles around the kitchen like a wise old badger. To make his coffee he doesn’t turn on the kettle. Instead, he puts a pot of water on the stove and waits for it to boil.

Having a pint with the old man.

I remember being an angst-fuelled 23 year old telling him, “But that takes so much longer!”
He looked at me, a warm smile filling his eyes.
“You do not live with a woman and small children.”
His sensitivity, back then, baffled my own immature mantras. His modest income meant the houses he occupied where no mansions. In a nutshell, he would rarely give up his morning routine and at the same time…restrain himself so the family got enough sleep. Allow me to get back to the badger and his early morning.

My father in his element…or The Element perhaps?

Coffee in hand, he trundles to his favourite chair in the lounge. (If you read as much as this intellectual mammoth, you earn the right. Or perhaps, the chair finds you?) He sits down with a big red book of Rumi (a Sufi poet). It’s the perfect blend for him, mysticism and metaphor.

A gentleman always tells the truth. He allowed me to reel this fatty in so I could experience “the rush”. I compromised and said I’d take the photo as his hands were still full of fish!

Over the years poetry and books kept the two of us together. Much like a weekend for him, alone, pours cool consciousness back into his bones. He may not believe in a god, although he will make an effort to crawl back into nature to get in touch with something close to a Divine. Whether it’s internal or buried in the ripples of a rise…well, that remains to be seen.

Having another pint!

I love you Dad. Happy Birthday!

 

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that afternoon

we sat on the bank
father. son. river. rod.
3 ducks watch us,
they wait for knuckles of bread
we throw out for carp.

“yaa! piss off!” – my father’s arms
writhe in the wind like an angry officer.
i hoist my box of orange juice
i take a swig.
vodka swirls
like a warm hand into my chest.

before our expedition…
i hid in the car, and
my father was the lookout.
the rear door left open,
a suspicious window.
i drained juice from the carton,
my fingers unscrewing caps
a thousand thoughts whirred
in my head as i mixed the booze.

the ducks became bored and left.
my bait starts to swirl in the distance,
a fistful of bread
with a hook in it (half immersed).

“you see that?”
my father starts to twitch, jiggle,
his hands bubble up through the
arms of the camping chair.

rotating bait equals a fish, gently
gnawing, picking, probing
underneath our excitement.

“have another drink Dad!”
“n-n-not now, i have to watch your bait.”
his eyes cut through the afternoon air,
heads of trees watch us,
insects trickle in the distance.

the bait stops.
my father sighs, his shoulders sag
like branches of an old tree,
he has a drink.

it is the last time i will see him,
i crack open a volume of poetry,
ducks chuckle further down the river.

we exchange poems, metaphors, stories
embalmed in the loam of our language.
vodka sways through our sentences,
no more bites.

the moment is perfect.
well, almost. maybe if there was
a bronze body dancing in
my father’s hands?

night draws over us
like a heavy curtain.
our sighs parallel,
our hands collect rods and bags.
two chairs jut out of my arms
like old telescopes.

“you good to go?”
i nod, and we trundle back on
the mud path
where our memories
lie buried.

 

 

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poetry

My first time

My father taught me to write
in books
Ones full of words, throbbing with ideas

One day I picked up a book
of his, it smelled like a good memory
I opened to a random chapter
my eyes saw a square bracket
herding a phrase together

I went to ask my father
about the marks he had made.
– Once you wade into a river,
you must remember where
you cast your line.

I ran those words over in my head.
Like an old coin you weave
through your fingers, the
rhythm of the unconscious.

I was reluctant to carve up
this soul I spent money on.

My first attempt was in pencil.
A book of poetry I left at
a girlfriend’s house.

I went back to the store to buy
my own copy. It still looked the
same as the last one, unwanted
memories crawling out of its spine.

I wrote in the book
like a draft of my own.
My pencil skated through pages,
my head engorged in the words.
I couldn’t wipe off the excitement.

Months later, I told my father about
this book I had devoured.
He picked it up, pencil marks
leaping at him like headlines.

– Someone has studied this.
He said.
– Oh, that was me.
I muttered.
– That’s interesting.

A smile rippled through him.
For a second I could see
pride splash in his eyes,
a curious carp coming to the surface.

 

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Prose

What a happy novelist does…

Happy is the novelist who manages to preserve an actual love letter that he received when he was young within a work of fiction, embedded in it like a clean bullet in flabby flesh and quite secure there, among spurious lives.

Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977)

Russian-born U.S. novelist, poet

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