They're not like lovers.
After they've gone
we don't breathe in longing
uncovering the pillow,
or burrow our faces searching for their scent
in the hug of damp sheets.
But we do let the stripped bed lie,
its jumble of discarded bedding
still guarding the imprint of their body in sleep.
They're not like children.
In the dark
we don't sleep close to them
to share their dreaming
listening through our own slumber
to wake at the instant their breath changes.
But we do start when
they turn abruptly bumping the wall.
They're not like friends
laughing late by the fire
eating chocolate croissants at two a.m.
looking over new poems together
cleaver in hand
tipsily falling into the covers
begging for a long lie in.
No these are the fathers of the middle-aged.
Not the ones we knew when we were young
always turned away, locked in,
fearful of our tramping march to change the world,
our shouting, our disrespect.
We told them nothing then.
They come now to give their time,
listening to our lives where advice is useless
and they know it.
They help get the children to school
in families that used to have men.
They fix the dripping tap,
make tables for their grandchildren
out of red cedar,
lovingly turning the legs, polishing the top
so they gleam burnished
in small bedrooms
covered in Star Wars leggo and nine year old birthday cards.
At 82 they go out when we're busy and chop the wood
so our barrows are always full,
then set the fire, peel the vegetables, prepare dinner.
They show us how to set drip lines in the garden
for drier times,
tell us to drive more slowly,
stand right in the way when we're cooking dinner
whisky in hand, joking that
we're always telling them what to do.
After five or six days
returning to busy lives rich with friends,
they drive away
into the long trip home
down that wet road
with its slips and slides,
its dark distracting trucks looming through the fog,
its startling high beam distortions.
Flutters of fear for them
trembling in our chests,
inside the sad tug of their leaving,
we go back to sit at the desk
beside the fold-down lounge,
leaving the stubborn huddle of duvet and sheets
still not pushed aside into laundry,
cheeks carrying the soft rain inside.
From Shadows at the Gate