Another Statistic

The daily briefing from Downing Street today will include the number of people who have died in the past 24 hours due to Covid19. One of those will be my father. He was been in hospital for a number of days, gradually slipping away.


My relationship to my father is and was complicated to say the least. Maybe it's an Irish thing, but when I need to deal with difficult emotions, I tend to look to poets to help me find a language. So I simply want to share two poems that will be my companions for the next little while. Both are by John Hewitt, an Irish poet who always rewards the reader:


A FATHER'S DEATH


It was no vast dynastic fate

when gasp by gasp my father died,

no mourners at the palace gate,

or tall bells tolling slow and wide.

...


Then, when dawn washed the polished floor

and steps and voices woke and stirred

with wheels along the corridor,

my father went without a word.


The sick, the dying, bed by bed,

lay clenched around their own affairs;

that one behind a screen was dead

was someone's grief, but none of theirs.


It was no vast dynastic death,

no nation silent round that throne,

when, letting go his final breath,

a lonely man went out alone.


JACOB AND THE ANGEL


I wrestled with my father in my dream,

holding my ground though he strove powerfully,

then suddenly remembered who we were,

and why we need not struggle, he and I;

thereat desisted. Now the meaning's clear;

I will not pause to struggle with my past,

locked in an angry posture with a ghost,

but, striding forward, trust the shrunken thigh.

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