Grandad

This poem was originally written several years ago, but I recently rewrote it for publication in the September edition of Australian literary journal Polestar.

 

In the photograph of my Grandfather that hangs over me

Death hangs as well

 

The old man stares away from the camera

Away from the machine

Which gives eternity to his image

 

The machine shows me what I would look past

If I saw the old man once again made flesh

 

Skin that is sagging

Down, down

Towards the ground

Beckoning, tempting, weighing the old man

Back to dust

 

Thinness in the upper chest

Where the muscles are wasting

 

And how he stares

Away from the camera

 

He is holding his walking cane,

Hooked like his nose

That handsome hooked nose

Under which his smile once lived

 

The cane rises, rises, and then slows

Curves, gently at first, then dives

Into a sudden fall

 

The photograph cuts off above the hands

Working hands, which never wanted to rest

Perennially black with engine oil –

Clanking sounds from the garage

Or making breakfast and tea –

Toast smells early morning

 

The photograph steals my grandfather’s hands

And already it is death who truly steals them

Death who takes us piece by piece

 

The photo hides as much as it reveals

It seems my grandfather stares into space

But he is looking at his tree

He is staring

Away from the machine

And into his tree

 

 

And what of the moment

After a cup of tea,

Skinny and weak as a starved pup

Still in love and revisited

By his old smile

 

What of the moment

When something broke inside

And my grandfather

Slumped to the strange-scented floorboards

Of my childhood, of his adulthood

 

Where is the photo:

The old man’s son,

Cradling his father’s small, limp body in his arms

Light as a child

 

What did my grandfather see last

Before the sudden dark

Was it profound?

Would it be worthy of a photograph?

Was it the beautiful face

Of his wife in her nightgown?

Or his son’s anguished face?

Not ready, not now, not now!

 

. . .

 

As a child kicking and struggling

To bed in the arms of their father

But finally glad of the good rest they receive

So did grandad slip away

 

Finally too tired to fight longer

Ready now to rest

 

Devoured by the hungry earth,

Torn mournful like a love letter,

Pulled apart so tenderly and dispersed:
Trembling flowers in the breeze,

Bright green leaves unfurling in dewy morning,

Food for the gods
I see him shining in each new birth of spring

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