He missed my birthday, but when he came home on leave
He unbolted the stabilisers from my new red bike
And took me down to the playing field,
Holding me up with a steady hand.
You’ll never make a living as an artist, he admonished,
Years later, that hand still trying to keep me upright.
But all I could feel was the exhilaration of the wind in my hair
And the scents of crushed grass and sunshine
As I sped along,
Unconcerned that he had to run to keep pace with me.
And when he went away again I passed the time
Ticking off the long months on the calendar,
Waiting for his leave.
And on bad days I would read the letter he’d been sent by the King,
Sedate in its silver frame beside the medal
That was tarnishing in his absence.
Why did you go to war, Dad? I asked him once,
Cocky with school book history and images of
Newly-discovered Wilfred Owen poems crowding my brain.
So that idiots like you wouldn’t have to, he replied,
Unfolding his newspaper with a contemptuous crackle.
And once a year there would be a photograph in The Courier,
Of him and all his cronies with their medals pinned proudly to
Their best suits, out on parade.
Pot-bellied defenders of liberty and justice,
I sneered from my bohemian lifestyle miles away,
Though he was still holding me up with cash hand-outs
And Christmas food hampers.
And it took the cold grey light of my own middle age to see them clearly,
Frail old men
Gaunt and bent with infirmity and age,
Meticulously planning their last parade,
Their numbers already decimated by an unforgiving god
Who was daily scything through their tottering ranks.
Then I finally held him, frail, in my arms,
His body eaten away by a ravenous cancer,
Hearing in my head my arrogant young voice calling him,
Tubby, hey Tubby!
And when he no longer possessed the strength to
Hold me up as I careered blindly into my future
I told him my first lie,
That old lie fed to children ardent for some desperate glory,
Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.
I’m so sorry, Dad.
Copyright © Max Scratchmann 2013
Max Scratchmann is an illustrator and poet. He has also written many short stories and three travel books. http://www.maxscratchmann.com