Dad’s Dibber by Sharon Larkin


Short and squat, a man in a cap,
rolled-up shirtsleeves, old trousers
encrusted with blood and bone,
boots dusted with powdered lime.

He bends double over the latest row
marked out with stake and string
to keep it straight, wields his dibber –
really a sawn-off fork handle –

swivels it into the tidy tilth
to make a little hole for a seed potato.
Later he’ll earth up the row
to encourage growth.

I watch, asking questions ‘what, why, what for?’
in the manner of a five year old –
each answer given
after measured thought:

“It’s a fertiliser. It keeps soil sweet.
Because straight is better than crooked.
Because each one I plant needs a little nest
to encourage it to grow up strong.

Because good Dads love their children”.


This poem came out of a workshop at Cheltenham Poetry Society’s Annual Awayday (writing retreat) in May.  The workshop, led by David Ashbee, used wood and wooden objects as prompts.  As I was writing my poems, I remembered my father’s dibber – hence this poem.  Thanks to Dave – and Dad – for the inspiration.


Screen Shot 2017-06-08 at 19.06.40.png

Two poems by David Ashbee

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.