The Bard has returned from a thrilling visit to the magnificent open-air arena at Verona to see Giacomo Puccini's Madama Butterfly. This was followed by a week of sunshine and relaxation at Lake Garda, then a lavish family wedding in Northern Ireland.
A sojourn in the country of my birth is always an occasion for nostalgia, when every landmark recalls an episode from my younger life.
Here's a prize-winning poem I wrote nearly twenty-five years ago that's linked to childhood and youth: The Hidden Traveller.
I featured it on the blog some time ago but it's always worth a re-run.
THE HIDDEN TRAVELLER
the over-furnished room, cold as a cave,
where they had laid him
between the aspidistra and a spotted mirror;
the sunbeams, slanting by the window, shoaled with dust;
the silent street beyond, devoid of passers-by.
Immaculate in laundered shirt and
suit so rarely worn in life; in death he looked
more like a character from a story than himself.
myself dressed in a suit that day;
the parlour’s silence broken only
by the ticking of a clock;
the sense of unreality, of ritual without feeling;
an odour of chrysanthemums.
I remember him
alive and huge and I so small,
watching geese fly
high over wetlands blurred with morning mist,
our upturned faces wet with perfect joy;
the swing he built me in the secret clearing
in the green-wood;
his hearty laughter booming in the treetops.
the warm, familiar smell of him;
his callused, gentle fists
thrusting the timber swing-seat
higher, ever higher.
I remember still,
though years have crowded in between then and now,
the reckless humour ever-dancing in his eyes,
blue as songbird’s eggs;
the sweetness of the lulling tune he hummed at ending day
as, sleepily, I rode his shoulders home to bed.
Each passing generation
prints its image on the next: an echo of the parent
in each gesture of the child.
So his essential being rides my adult shoulders now,
as I transport his spirit towards another century.
We dress ourselves unknowingly
in garments of departed love, in remnants
of lost voices or half-remembered smiles.
The length of stride, a turn of phrase
betrays the other, hidden traveller in our skin.
Preserve in me
the things that once I loved in him.