Christmas at Sopers
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
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
“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
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
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)