In the backyard, the Oldsmobile that hasn’t started
in three months has become a table for men.
They pour Cutty Sark over ice in day glo plastic cups
and talk car repair. I’m there too, eight years old
and almost completely deaf, hiding from the sun
under the car and licking my hand for its salt.
Their muffled speech comes to me “ronronron”
as though they’re chanting a prayer to Ron,
the god of auto repair. When I’m bored with my hand,
I turn to watch their shuffling feet until their chant
brings me peace, and the salt on my tongue,
the valley heat, the smell of whiskey
and cigarettes, the browning grass beneath me,
and Ron’s soothing blessing helps me to drift off to sleep.
from East of Los Angeles
Poem to the Child Who Was Almost My Son
Today I will tell you the stories that I have kept to myself on purpose. I will tell you of the day I hiked the mountain by myself, and I veered off the path and climbed straight up to the crest. There was a clearing in the trees and wild rose bushes growing up in the sun. The afternoon warmth and smell of pine drowsed me, so I lay down and drifted off, only to wake up to nap amnesia and a world of roses before me. And I will tell you about the time I opened the scar on my leg, climbing a fence in the September Santa Ana heat. I sat down in the weeds of a vacant lot and watched the line of red form and drip and pool, and I smiled to see it, but I don’t know why, and I didn’t know then. I will tell you all the stories that I never meant to tell anyone, the stories that were so precious I kept them hidden. I will tell them to you now because your other father, the man you will always know as father, the man who will give you everything else, cannot give these to you, and I will give them to no one else but you. So I will give you the day when I wandered outside alone at night for the first time in my young life, and I bent my neck back, and I became an astronomer, and I will give you the moment I crushed the bones in my arm in frustration and horror, and I will give you the moment I felt you move inside your mother, and I was sure you would be my son forever.
from The Green of Sunset
In the Imperial War Museum, February 2, 1991
The first day you found me, I was lost – off
by the gas masks and green fog of the Great
War. It was to sounds of bloody coughs
and gurgling death and all that ancient hate
that I learned love. The tour group had moved on
without us, but you were there to pull me
out of the wreckage of festering human
sacrifices. And you said that we
should make our break away from the cannons
of North Africa, past the rotting dead
lying in the East. You even took me from
those terrible battles raging in my head
and you brought me, my love, into the bright
London evening, just slanting towards twilight.
Published in Poetry Cornwall