As in previous years, Good Dadhood is featuring a Special Edition in the run-up to Father’s Day on 20 June – seven wonderful, and wonderfully varied, poems from Sarah J Bryson, Suzanne Iuppa and Val Ormrod. Good Dadhood knows you’ll enjoy them!
A Poem by Sarah J Bryson
We knew Dad loved Annie, our new sister – but he wouldn’t hold her.
Much later Mum told me, he held none of you when you were born.
She thought he was scared of harming us: couldn’t trust himself
not to drop a baby, wary of the soft-sprung fontanelle
the vulnerable brain beneath the press of his fingertips.
I was rising seven, and so in-love. I’d balance her across
my lap, to change her, pins ready between my lips – but Dad
was not reassured by my it’s alright, I’ve done it before, as I
swung her onto my hip, prepared to give her rusk-thickened
milk, from her settling bottle, the one with the large hole teat.
Despite Dad’s protests that he was all for women’s lib
he went out to the office, had a hot meal on the table ready
for when he came back. But after Annie, something shifted
in Mum: her need to escape, get back to her nursing job
resurfaced. She wants to earn a little pin money, Dad said.
He said he was proud of what she did, made an effort to help.
My brother and I used to laugh, as we watched him feed the baby,
his mouth opening as he spooned the pap into hers. We saw
the distaste on his face as he changed her: we heard his frustrations
with tiny buttons, his explanation that his fingers were all thumbs.
We loved him for his teasing, tickling, and word games – groaned
loudly at his puns. He’d play cards or catch, cricket, or flick-flack
table tennis on the dining table. He encouraged us always
to look it up, use a dictionary, do the right thing. He flared quickly
but always tempered with, you know it’s because I love you, don’t you?
I was five months in with my first, ready to start the cycle again
when he suddenly died. I would never know if I could cajole him
as I had fondly thought, into holding my baby without fear,
to somehow make up for how he missed out on us.
Sarah J Bryson is a writer, nurse and amateur photographer. She has poems published in print journals, anthologies and on-line. During lockdown she has been a regular participant in a weekly on-line arts event, combining photographs with haiku style poetry and has several poems on the Poetry and Covid site.
Three poems by Suzanne Iuppa
I can see you and him together when I close
my eyes— the baby held out at heart level
your shoulders framed by the open door.
You’ve your coat on and a warm, plaid shirt,
but are you coming or going? Your first grandchild
flutters his eyelids wrapped in fringed white heirloom;
grace. His temples peep so pure. You know to hold
him out from your chest where shame and hardship
and exposure and joy tangle. Blossoms wriggle
under your fingers. Twin helix of honeysuckle
from your bower, now parcelled for your gaze
by your daughter, held up, raised slightly to
the silver rims of your eyewear, as if for
the ringing bells. You look winded.
The infant’s forehead domed and precious
like the earth’s horizon at daybreak, from space,
his name a chant and twirled with skill
down Broad Street in a May Day parade,
his limbs strong as oars, his voice a whacked,
rebounding blade, and when he cries aloud,
we’ll all cup the streaming nick in our neck.
A tall boy to measure against the oak door frame.
Strength nailed into four corners. Someday, where
your wily wisdom will fly— but you’ll stay, hovering:
because parents, they run such a long distance.
Parents. They run and run, standing still.
My Brother’s Hat
There is a ladder leaning to an apex, with its ends in light.
All the clothes are shrunk in vacuum-packed clear bags, like cold-cuts we are taking on a picnic.
Dad proudly shows me his system. Winter clothes, dense coats and puffa jackets, some found new,
feel, see this one with the moleskin elbows? Goodwill. The shoes and boots and gloves, he didn’t
have too many, so they can huddle up together, features held out to floating motes.
T-shirts, laundered and folded.
An Italian tailor-sense; ordered and making the best use of concrete time and space, or, what we can
reliably put our hands on. Lengthways first, then the others, so they don’t slide over. Be careful of
stepping there. Now, come down and get these—
You listen, obey, reckon months this time: boxes of Christmas shtick, photographs, a dart board
with the bulls’ eye gored out and nonsensical. All this in store. At the bottom rung, Dad runs his
fingers over the woollen braids and moon-round rim he keeps to one side. Flannelled and childlike,
stubborn weave to the world. Tugs it on, lopsided, and looks for me to get the inside joke.
He keeps company; the space where my brother’s head used to be.
My father! Always smiling.
(There is a ladder leaning to an apex, with its ends in light.)
Every Morning, The Obstetrician Makes a Home Visit
slippers on each stair
My grandfather moves with dawn
and the waves just below our drowsy hearing.
He’s filled a pewter creamer
percolated roast beans,
stooped to read a dew-splashed headline
before folding it over
crossword face up
and on the tray.
The smell of toast
comforts us, not ready to rise.
My grandmother pours
her first cup and
he leaves us again,
to usher in someone new.
Suzanne Iuppa is a poet and conservationist living and working in the Dyfi Valley, mid Wales. Poetry and essays are forthcoming in Words for the Wild, Natur Cymru and Writing in Education. She is a columnist all year for Spelt magazine and is nominated for the 2021 Pushcart Prize. Her family background is Sicilian and Welsh-Irish, a high-spirited combination.
Three Poems by Val Ormrod
I watch you sitting under the willow tree,
sunlight shimmering through restless leaves
to freckle your still handsome face.
A soft autumn breeze winnows
the lustrous hair that belies
your advancing years.
Your eyes, once so bewildered,
are no longer fearful; you are cocooned
in the rhythm of the garden.
A smile settles, serene upon your face
as your fingers stray to caress
our old retriever, golden at your feet.
There is a calming inside my chest
like the thickening of honey, the humming
of bees, the slow turning of ivy to crimson.
It’s been ten years now, but still I see you
sitting there beneath the willow tree,
haloed by the setting sun.
(First published in Precious – Award-winning Poetry by Hammond House, 2018)
How long have we been married?
he says, as we start the bedtime routine.
We’re not married, Dad, I say.
I’m not your wife.
What are you then? he asks.
I’m your daughter.
Oh yes, daughter, that’s right,
and without missing a beat,
How long have we been married?
Oh, a long time, I say, giving in,
distracting him with a chocolate
and fetching his PJs.
Out of the corner of my eye,
I see him hide the chocolate under his pillow.
Don’t take those, he pleads,
as I attempt to scoop up his clothes,
I haven’t got any more.
The worry whisks him into agitation;
his heart creases with the fear of loss.
And so the nightly ritual unfolds.
Like the king in his counting house,
we are counting out his clothes,
lining up the pants and socks
like toy soldiers on his bed.
Reassured for now,
he looks at the montage of photos.
That’s my mother and my sisters,
and those are my kittens,
he proclaims with misplaced confidence.
But, no matter, for these moments,
like the rest, will skitter into black holes
and dissolve into mist.
As I tuck the sheets around him
he reaches up to hug me.
You’re my favourite dog, he says.
And you mine, I say. The best.
(First published in The Bridport Prize Anthology 2014)
When this is all over
I’ll come to find you
hold you and hug you
I’ll wheel you out from your musty room
wrap you in a fleecy jacket
wind a scarf around your neck
pull a woolly hat down over your ears
and take you for a drive in my car
even have the roof down.
We can have the heater turned up high
but you’ll be free
to breathe the country air.
We’ll drive through the forest
with sunlight slanting through the trees
and leaves will spiral down
on your shoulders.
We’ll stop for fish and chips
and I’ll pass you the warm parcels to hold
with their intoxicating aroma of vinegar.
We’ll eat them from paper
in our bare hands
and lick the salt off our fingers.
Then we’ll drive on
and your hair will lift in the breeze
and you’ll laugh again
and the sound of your laughter will be
the best music I’ve heard all year.
Val Ormrod’s poetry has been published by Eye Flash, Hedgehog Poetry, Graffiti, Hammond House, Gloucester Writers Network and in several anthologies. In 2019 she won the Magic Oxygen International Poetry Prize and Ware Poets Open Competition, was shortlisted for the Plough Prize, Wells Festival of Literature and nominated for the Forward Prize single poem award. Her memoir In My Father’s Memory was published in 2020.