wordsout by godfrey rust
< family


When we first saw the house, in January
of a record-breaking winter, the garden was soft
white tissues draping brown iron. Snowdrops
     poked through.
The car stuck in its tracks, snowbound on
     that visit.
The house was a bargain, a year empty,
paint-faded and big enough for a family
of five to lose each other in, the way we did.

At the beginning there was stuff to move, things
     to buy.
I was ten and excited, there were cats exploring
and the whole house to clothe from head to foot,
the fuss of laying carpets, sending us to school, 
     a new roof needed.
Tools were in the shed, my father had no
my mother was busy, the garden could wait.
In the spring we first noticed them: no riot 
     of weeds,
but hundred-thousands of forget-me-nots,
a frail, pale-blue sea of half an acre. We had tried
to grow them before, in Scotland, my mother
(they hadn't taken—something lacking in
     the soil) 
but nothing like this shy and blithely massive
Whatever grace a single flower might boast was
     no insurance
against a spade and boot and the garden

My father had his figures. My mother worked
in and outside the house, and bit by bit
put things in order. Two summers digging 
     and burning
all but removed tem. The odd remainder were
uprooted, if they were found. Her husband
saw, in time, the possibilities. They dug
beds for dahlias and red-hot-pokers, laid
more paving, sawed disease from fruit trees.
Lawns were sowed and thickened where weeds
     had been.
My brothers sometimes helped. I rarely,
sat in my room, played guitar and wrote to friends.
In the evenings my father walked around 
     the garden
before tea in his suit, just in from work,
or stood by the tiny stone-slab bridge across 
     the stream.

One brother left to work; the other married,
earned respect and grew more down to earth,
I learned to write and talk to God, at times
forgot how to do both, and watched my father
go more slow and tolerant as his heart 
     grew tired.
I was ambitious too, but my father read
in travel books and brochures, not somewhere
he might find such as this in an anthology
edited by Alvarez or Edward Lucie-Smith.

Still the forget-me-nots bloom
in some forgotten corner of the garden.
Today I have clipped a hedge, aimed at clarity
of diction, phoned up a friend, and thought
of the proper ends of poets (Auden's dead).
My mother is upstairs, in bed. My father too,
twenty miles away in the cardiac ward

at the age of fifty his body giving up, with a fight;
but even at this late hour I can't think it's right
that (as just now I lit a cigarette
by a taper from the embers of the fire)
I draw a poet's warmth from his last bed
or think of calling this an epitaph.
The house is good as sold. The garden
may seed itself back to forget-me-nots,
and a God who traffics in such miracles,
despite all human effort, may yet decide
these statements form an answerable prayer.

Picture 1

For my father, Bob Rust, written in Ilkley, October 4/5 1973.  This is the only poem from earlier than 1980 that I have kept. It was originally published in the Warwick University arts magazine Insite in 1973 or 1974. We moved to the house in Grove Road, Ilkley from Scotland in the arctic winter of 1963, and it remains in my memory as our definitive family home. My father Bob survived the operation referred to here (his third heart valve replacement) but died nine months later, by which time he and my mother had moved to a cottage in the nearby village of Addingham.  I went to work in London after university and never lived in Yorkshire again.

The photo of the house is taken from the Web in 2011 (when it was sold again): the back garden is unfortunately hidden. The photo at the top is a delightful snapshot from my brother Graham's wedding to Jo(an) Astbury in Winterton, Lincolnshire in December 1972, nine months before this poem was written. It shows my brother Chris, mother Joan, Graham and Jo, father Bob, grandmother Elsie (Bob's mother) and me on the far right, with regulation period student hair and beard.

Godfrey Rust, godfrey@wordsout.co.uk. See here for permissions.