Life As We Know It, a collection of poems
7 September 2013
Forgive us children
for we know not what we do.
It has been three years
since our last confession.
Snaking across cracks in the tarmac,
up three steps, past the bag hooks
lining brick walls outside classrooms,
past high windows barring the world.
Past the first double door
into the assembly room.
A door guard, bespectacled and
grants access to the long table.
A name is checked and
papers handed over.
Democracy, first-world style:
This is the farce
to bring the nation out to play.
Compelled participation, pointless
if on one day in a thousand.
The real players not on the ballot.
We’ve seen democracy elsewhere
and fear the barbarism;
opposition candidates and
sealed ballot boxes
sequestered in shallow graves.
Dawn raids and road blocks
keep the living from voting,
whilst legions rise
from the dead like Lazarus.
We park on clipped verges,
queue in safe corridors,
to cast our empty votes,
then meet up for a latte.
Back home, the back pat done,
we rid ourselves of public germs
in matching basins, his and hers,
and rinse away
the crimson stain of apathy.
The lives we end,
we do not see on tally boards.
The deaths we sanction
are not real to us; the blood not red.
The anguish not visible,
broadcast in tunnel vision
on our expansive plasma screens.
We warn our children
when another revolution
across a tennis-white wall.
We plan their future,
they braille their way
to the cartoon channel.
Silver-webbed suspension bridge
spans plenty of nothing and plenty of me.
My father worked here – a road builder to this day.
A bright young engineer in wide trouser legs,
drawing complex arches.
Planning for the future.
When we were little he told us:
The man who designed this killed himself right here.
Since then all bridges spill
silent tumbling bodies
free-falling in stop motion.
Here’s my father as a student, as I never knew him.
1945, yet more than safe, from the horror abroad.
Carefree and smiling on the steps of the residence.
Young men in rugby shorts squint and smoke and laugh.
The one on the left died in 1980.
His second wife locked him out;
phoned his children: Come get your dad.
No joke, my dad said – we didn’t laugh.
My father’s best friend, carefree. That’s him,
sprawled on his back blowing smoke rings.
He windsurfed, travelled the world.
The last time I saw him, in his eighties,
he still laughed just like that.
My father became serious, did well for himself.
He never came to concerts. My winning song:
Tu m’echappes toujours. You always escape me.
No joke – I didn’t laugh.
Yesterday I gave him
a picture book on bridges.
Silver-haired body tumbles,
free-falling in stop motion –
leaves nothing for me.
Turned myself inside out
searched the seams for
loose threads of
no ticket stubs to
no waxy gum wrappers
no man-size tissues
for tears of joy
not even a paper clip
to bend into a heart
no scraps of paper
no Lotto ticket
no tubes of chapstick
no safety pins
as this is all but safe
not even a lamb
to offer in your place.