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Christiana Spens

Father / Godfather / Friend


We watched him die for sixteen years
And still he will laugh back
The doctors got it wrong again
Our grief is now bankrupt.
Feel that relief, they say, of debts removed
(or kidney). Of illness tempered for
A little while, by drugs and luck and cheating.

And yet there'll be another fall,
A new prognosis and another
Knock — a debt collector or a doctor
And I wonder if I'll forget our address again
As I did when I was ten,
On the phone to the paramedics
Or whoever they were.

I wonder if I'll forget the necessary numbers —
A phone or a postcode
As if I don't want them to find us, really.
Trained from an early age for avoidance,
For running away, for delaying death
And bankruptcy for a little more time

I think of what it buys, this expensive delay:
a game to play, and some evenings in. A little
Whiskey, but not too much, "You know my liver
Isn't what it was."
In spite of it all — those forgotten numbers, dramatic
Near-ends, falls and sickness, I can't help but find
My father's smile just charming.

For a moment, an evening, we have evaded them again,
We have lost the debt collectors and the doctors
And one drink is almost enough,
One evening is everything.



He was the first man to buy me jewellery:
Some pearls, and a crucifix
A doll, too, when I was ten, called Georgiana,
With strawberry blonde hair and vacant
Calmness, hazel eyes transfixed in an imaginary

We ate lunch by the beach — sparkling water, blue sunshine,
The Pacific too bright to look at.
I was very conscious of being a little girl with him.
I wanted my hair to look right.
I wanted to be a good lunch date.

I knew that there were things on his mind and another
Life apart from being sweet to his goddaughter,
Even then, but he was so good at telling me
Everything was fine.

The last email was a congratulations
For something or other.
And the last phone call was a surprise.
I was living in West Brompton, using Bella's pink
Pin-up phone, and he talked to me as if I was ten years
Old again, and for twenty minutes I did not have to pretend to be
A grown-up anymore.

I never spoke to him again, or felt quite so young. It is strange
To read about family in the papers.
It's strange to read, "Murdered" —
"Killer son — still on the run."
Events abstracted to sensation,
Real things discarded to imagination.


III.   Friend.

I don't know how he put up with me so long. But whenever
Something goes wrong, (or, sometimes, right), there was lunch
With Nick. There was bright giddy light and people
Flickering around, clean surfaces and pale pink wine.
There were dismissals, rolled eyes, mischievous No's
About unsuitable boys. There was advice laced with provocation:
"Maybe he's gay? Oh he's definitely gay." —
"Don't get married just because it seems funny."
"You know you have absolutely the worst taste in men?
[But something tells me
you rather enjoy it.]"

There were charming expletives
And too much choice on the menu, and
"Try pigeon, why not?" We would chat and chat and
chat and drink and chat – an armagnac.
We'd flick through some photos of Patti Smith and
Robert Mapplethorpe, we'd talk about other people at the
Other table, not even speaking to each other.
We wondered if those people, the obnoxious ones,
Were bankers or estate agents. [Estate agents, probably.]
Expletives sparkled. Afternoon gone.
Espressos doubled. Twilight ignored.

Five years punctuated by quiet rebellion,
and help choosing:
"I've gone off men in the way one can't eat oysters
having been poisoned by them." I complained one day.
"Fish and chips make a good alternative." He replied.
"And what shall we have to drink?"

When the lunches become less regular,
When things don't go wrong,
I realise I have started taking out the younger ones, myself:
Adopted younger brothers, who do the talking now,
Over steaks and gin and tonics, and the same old problems.
In far away restaurants, I find myself sharing
The same advice I heard four years ago,
And help choose from the menu,
For a scattered age.

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