Alec Wheeler


Christmas at Sopers

was Christmas.

Your beautiful house,

cold kitchen tiles and creaking doors.



I held canapés at your parties.

I was the proudest Grandchild,

standing in my best dress,

falling in love with all your friends.



I learnt how to make vol au vents,

the word ‘vermillion’,

how to say pa-ra-pher-na-lia,

failed to help you with your crossword.




Most adults in my life

feigned awe at the clumsy achievements

of children.



But you were always excited

to show me that

you were cleverer than I was.



You looked for a lesson in everything,

and I longed for those sentences

that began

            “Now, did you know?”



“You can eat oak leaves.”

“Those marks were made by tanks during the war.”

“I built Paul Scofield’s teeth.

(Marvellous actor. Do you know King Lear?)”




We collected stones on Climping beach,

carried them home,

set the tumbler off,

clattering in the cellar for hours.



When the rocks were polished

into shiny jewels, I put them in your bowl

in the drawing room

with the others.



You always smelled of talcum power

and hard white soap.

No one used it anymore,

but you still found it.




In summer at the French cottage

we sped your cream-lacquered Triumph

open-topped, through the countryside,

wind through my hair.



You said you had once been up to


Somewhere remote.

Not with me in the car: “Certainly not.”



We ate breakfast in the shade

on the veranda-

French bread pushing painfully

against my soft new grown-up teeth.



There were electric-blue Jay feathers

and wild boar footprints

on the floor of the damp woods.

Farmyards. Cocks crowing.



In the dark, thunderstorms roared

like tigers in my bedroom.

Me and my brother cried,

sheet lightning turned night to day.



We swam in the pebbled river

with snakes.

So young I only wore shorts,

My bare chest flat like a boy’s.



You and Dad raked hay in the hot sun

into huge crackling pyres.

On the last night,

we set them alight.



(Image. Cézanne: Lac d’Annecy, 1896)

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