By Sarah Frost
How sad that it has come to this
my father an old man driving me and his grandson, asleep in the baby seat,
through the Eastern Cape interior to the airport
from where we will return, as if we were swallows and the holiday a winter,
to our warmer home, and he will make the two hour journey back
to my mother and the sea
alone in their big white car, a craven gull.
I whirl the dial of the iPod
with my forefinger, scanning on screen the music he has downloaded.
Songs were always the antidote for our unspoken conflict, pooling like snake venom in the blood, lyrics too –
I remember him, skinny, young, passionate, finding Dylan Thomas’s ‘Fern Hill’/ /reading stanzas, jubilant, from the bath to me in the next room;
‘nothing I cared in the lamb-white days/ that time would take me/ by the shadow of my own hand/ up to the loft where the moon is always rising’.
It is still the only poem I’ve ever memorised.
I ask about the Stones’ ‘little Red Rooster,’
he replies, ‘it reminds me of dancing at raunchy parties’.
Nothing irresistible about you now Dad, smaller, greyer, with every year,
fishing surreptitiously under your seat
for the last turquoise Smarty from the box we just shared,
your hand unsteady as it was when you reached for mine
and held on to it as if it were a rope,
and you the one falling, wrenched away.
We were watching the documentary on Dylan (No Direction Home)
on my laptop. I remember you, visiting, just you, on a summer’s night
cradled with the iPod in the hammock on my verandah,
crooning with Dylan ‘she’s got everything she needs/
she’s an artist/ she don’t look back’.
Your inexplicable and therefore frightening fury
as you told me about our ancestors, and how to write well
I had to honour them too.
My great-grandfather, stern, distant, a stranger, wrote to me
on pale green Croxley paper
his writing frail against the formality of the black-inked lines.
In the troubled departure hall,
you kiss us both goodbye and I turn away irresolute, unforgiving
to walk through the X-ray arch,
your gaze on my shoulders a faint touch for the child you forsook,
the woman you call your daughter,
who, angry, the damage done, carries your dwindling fire into the future.
The man standing at the side of the woman writing
had an indelible tattoo of loss etched onto his face
every needle prick a leaving.