A Real Man
In the sawdust and shirt-sleeves
of my father’s shed I disappointed him.
Step in there now, mind that ladder,
fight the choke of wood shavings,
sniff the sweet, dusty stink of lacquer
and fag smoke, see the old boy’s tongue
gripped by his lips in concentration.
Try not to let him catch you smiling
as he bears down with his drill on a plank
laid roughly on the ancient trestle table;
ask him if you can have a go yourself
with that piece of cheap, flawed plywood.
He’ll hesitate, of course, give The Lecture,
but he’ll join your clumsy battles
with body and eye and do enough to stop
the chiselling of a thumb or the chopping
of a finger or the stabbing of a palm.
But give up, after a while, stop copying him,
watch instead how the fist of his vice,
tender and intent, holds its victim tight
and, as he sets to work, how the circular saw
whistles, slices, spits splinters into the air.
Glance up then, hide the shiver from him,
feel the stares and discipline and threat
of the one thousand and one hammers
waiting on the wall like dark squaddies
who’ve already made their first kill
and wish that you were him.
Now wish again.
Once a year I’d let him see me smile,
twice a year I’d wink, and my gruff,
exasperated instructions only once faded
to soft, the time we made a dartboard,
the one I nailed to my old apple-tree.
I’d say ‘pick a number, son, any number’,
take a dart and hit the soft green board
between the bright, right gleaming wires
with a sure thud, then walk away wordless,
across the damp lawn, back to our shed.
The lovely, lonely Summer before I went
he brought me a pencil-box he’d made,
a pencil-box not long enough to hold a pencil,
and I laid the poor, half-varnished thing
gently down on my workbench and wanted.
I remember how
just-like-God he thought I was.
And I wished and wished again.
For a while I love you, sweetheart,
but I watch myself losing you
as we step from the misting street
into that Glastonbury restaurant,
an hour after the silent climb to the Tor.
I stare at you as you edge in,
apologetic and not quite in your body,
never quite in your fucking body
–‘Sorry, Mary, after you’ –
and I realise love is never enough.
‘You choose the wine’, ‘No, you’:
I wish just once you’d occupy some space,
believe, take the room and my desire,
I wish just once you’d hammer and saw
and carve the world into shape
so I repeat my lonely, silent prayer
for you to be temple-shouter
and table-turner again, a blacksmith
or a fisherman or a carpenter:
I can no longer hide my need, love.
As we sit down, fussed and flapped
by the waiter, I look up to the ceiling,
stare through and beyond it to the red
Western skies. I see your father nodding,
lost – and a little pleased – and I cry.