New and Selected Poems
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Just a Minute
Today my kids are skipping
over your threshold and you not here.
The ones you never dandled,
pronounced prodigies: My kids
who only know your photograph.
I'm busy clearing the path
that twenty years ago I skipped
to find you at kitchen table,
sweating in a vest, wheezing,
door open for the draught.
Your eyes follow me as I go back
and forth with dolls, drinks, books
to make an island paradise on the lawn.
Your face is weatherbeaten brown,
white upper arms are soft baby flesh.
As you sip black tea, your bitter cup,
You listen to the radio.
It's Just a Minute, just a minute ago.
Words are trip-wires, their sudden consonants
tease, bring shame. Fingers fumble too,
trying to write or draw with left hand tied.
Trapped music sings in his head. At last
he begs piano lessons. Fingers, stretched,
find tunes by pressing tacky ivory.
But not for long. Cash goes on uniforms.
not for him, kept home to wash and press,
while others go to grammar school.
His first job, farm labourer, pays turnips, spuds.
Not till trainee grocer can he earn enough
to buy a violin, and cradle it, and stroke its wood.
Unlatching the back gate one day, he finds
kid brother scoring goals, the violin
a tangle of strings booted up the yard.