Bordeaux Bay

Bordeaux Bay
Bordeaux Bay by Guernsey-based artist Tony Taylor

Saturday, 17 April 2021


This is not a new poem but one rewritten several times over the last decade. Do I now regard it as finished? I hardly dare say. Some might argue that no poem is ever properly finished because there’s always some small thing, a word or phrase, to add, to change or take away.


Around my father’s neck,

against his tweedy waistcoat,

a battered leather box was strung

on straps above his broad watch-chain,

its perforated, bruised, brown face

marked it as cousin to the gas-mask, ghastly grim,      

that hung in a cobwebbed cupboard

beneath the stairs.

I had to stand tiptoe, speak to it slowly, 

my childish words, enunciated carefully, 

humming through cable 

that climbed, bindweed thin, to my father’s distant ear.

All innocence, I thought the words went in 

and there remained, 

living and breathing like mice inside that perforated box.

Oak-tall he seemed, my father,

oak-solid in his deafness

and, as I grew up, sapling-straight, to match his height. 

a silence swirled around us like a fog.

Each year he pencil-marked

our new height on the kitchen wall,

while hearing-aids developed too:

no more the leather box 

resting, marsupial, on his faded cardigan: 

now they hid like weevils

in spectacles with arms as thick as Parker pens.

Discreet, the maker claimed. 

A handicap, invisible, remains a handicap

and no advance in science, so it seemed, 

could dissipate the tortuous confusion 

when two or more young voices vied 

for his attention. 

Though patriarchal, 

Protestant, Old Testament-severe,

he was no soapbox orator 

yet often spoke at length

but seldom seemed to hear, 

while I, 

the eldest son, rebellious, estranged,

loved him, feared him,

but could not speak my heart to him.

Time, as it turns, obliterates

the pencil-marks of memory.

Moss gathers on my father’s grave

and yellowed album-photos fade.

I feel regret’s acidic burn

and yearn for that old perforated box,

to stand tiptoe and gently speak

the loving words I should have said,

the words of love he might have heard.

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