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Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Winding Up


Winding Up


I was left the watch your father left to you
with instructions to wind daily.


A person that I hardly knew,
just sepia memories aged four
of hospital beds near London Bridge,
starchy sheets, ceramic bedpans, dressings on sores,
candlewicks of tar tinted threads,
bound tight across cast ironed beds.
Hushed, vacuum flasked antiseptic wards
occupied by elderly men who coughed and snored.
I wonder if I then grasped his hand?
If so, there is in memory no brass band,
no conductor grandstanding the bandstand,
just his watch held in my hand.


Opening the fragile cardboard carton revealed
nothing spectacular or intense.
no gold, myrrh or frankincense,
but some mossy coloured cotton wool
nicotine stained by time’s passing.
Matchwood sharpened to a toothpick point
lay by the silvered watch; tarnished and brassing,
dented, chipped-faced, soiled, begrimed;
now end-stopped, stuck fast in a wrong time.
At five to twelve.
An obstinate metal puzzle refusing to move
or yield to pulling, twisting, shaking, force,
so not to risk breaking the already broken watch,
I laid it aside in guilted remorse.


As directed, I later wound it anyway,
knowing it would always be wrong
in its soundless, pointed, ticking song.
Day upon day, keeping senseless time so well,
the second hand kissing the minutes farewell,
the hours minuetting the days soon gone,
the years that pass in decades bent on.
A cunning faced fox that gazed and mocked,
pig-headed, stubborn in its dog-eared box,


Rolling and fingering it in my palm,
the stained silver begins to warm.
In shadowed, opaque reflections, did I spy
a man who comforted the boy who cries?
Perhaps a kindly, gruff reassuring grin
scoffing at monsters made of tin,
looming onward through blackened white static
brushing dread cobwebs from a young mind’s attic.
Drenched linseed hands, honing wood with elbow,
 underarm tossing red leather at willow,
then cordite and shot, blood feathered gun belt,
table mannered lectures and wisdom dealt:
Words made of rolled steel blades.
Absent for months then abruptly present,
not witness to days of growing dissent.
Summarily dispensing political views
without compromise: hefting the news;
the wasting world unwillingly shouldered.


Now here’s a curried forehead:
thin papered with hair,
steaming - either from rage or despair
at the latest trick; some ill mannered youth
who never would succeed in grasping life’s truth.
 Parting company with crumbling planet,
fast bound for mountains of gravel and granite,
scornful, reclusive, impatient of fools,
grinding teeth in the earth with primal tools,
smashing the axe-head with hefted hammer,
flamethrowers, drills; the chainsaw’s harsh stammer,
striding up summits, tearing down walls.
and the past is a country you refuse to recall.
You carved your initials into Albion’s soil.
You broke your back with truthful toil.
Yet never quite forgetting: a fire that smoldered.


“Don’t tell them I’m a farmer,” you once commanded,
as I set sail for out of mind and out of sight.
Well maybe you were right.
But did it really matter,
the former or the latter?
In the end, the watch is stuck, age has struck
and England all out for another duck.
The maturing years may make us kinder
and all that we lose becomes a reminder
of why we should have held fast in the first place.
She hard pinched my flesh in the crematorium
and passed the watch in memoriam.


And here it lies.
Made the trip to the desert,
halfway across the world:
a smooth pebble caressed between finger and thumb
to rest in antiquated peace till kingdom come,
alongside its matchstick companion,
like father, like son.
And it is funny how connections are made
as we silent gaze:
bequeathed, these two bedfellows.
No doubt I heard your voice: you didn’t think,
the music in your head made your brain shrink
and you’ve had far too much to drink.
But it was suddenly patently clear.
Taking the chiseled wood so delicate
and slight probing the innards so intricate,
the hands moved, the penny dropped,
and now it sits beneath the clock.
Reconciled, keeping time. Well, still, perhaps
one outruns the other - until they overlap.


I was left the watch your father left to you
and though it had little in the way of splendor,
I will daily wind it. And I will remember.