Cricket with my son
Wet grass and mist on the nearby hill
explains the empty playing field.
We drill the earth with stumps, like gardeners
fulfilling the month’s almanac.
My leather-soled working shoes
slip as I run up to bowl
stiff-armed, over the wicket,
the single one at the fire-station end.
Twenty years of not finding time
has twisted my action out of shape.
The ball skids at his feet in a spurt of spray.
“I can’t hit those, Dad. Bowl underarm.”
He scans the grey horizon,
the football pitch’s whitewash.
“A four is past that line.”
I lumber to the nettle clump under the trees,
retrieve the ball, a chilled red clot,
blossom on its flanks like wet confetti.
I predict we’ll bicker over makeshift rules,
who fetches what,
if sixes count on the short side.
He’ll draw stumps when he’s had enough,
or decides I’m just not worth it.
Meanwhile I bowl and chase and puff,
benignly decline his offer to declare
because he’s in charge
or thinks he is
as a gust frustrates his lob.
And I agree his terms,
certain that he’s learning all the time
the real game.
When Father papered the parlour
he set the scene for the rest of our days.
Not only fern-leaves at calculated angles
but a maroon-squiggle border
and three ducks that could never fly away.
Daddy’s Sauce on the table
and during the TV rugby too.
“Don, not in front of the children.”
Eternal father who saved
shillings for the meter, screws in a tin,
I saw you today in an old magazine
when we took up the carpet,
secure in your armchair doing the Pools,
your walking-stick in the umbrella stand,
black brogues by the hearth.
It didn’t really hit me you had gone
until the Father’s Day Parade
when they all turned up in foreign cars
with their shaved heads and ear-studs,
and you weren’t there.
There isn’t a parlour to paper any more,
just one through room with a vinyl floor,
the piano still plays – on a DVD,
and there’s a plasma screen
where your ducks used to be.
Fathers was first published in the collection Loss Adjuster from Bluechrome Press, 2007
David Ashbee has had two two major poetry collections published – Perpetual Waterfalls (Enitharmon) and Loss Adjuster (Bluechrome). He has contributed to five-day residential poetry workshops for over 20 years, leads the monthly Holub poetry and music evenings in Gloucesteeshire, and has read at both Cheltenham Literature Festival and Poetry Festival. He is a regular reviewer for South and has been a guest selector for the magazine. His work has been broadcast on BBC radio and television.