The Nook and the Knack
Once my dad would have
looked out at my back garden,
sighed and grabbed his tools:
mowing, weeding, pruning,
smoothing rough edges.
The ivy’s spread started
with my shed. A light touch,
at first. One leaf, and then another,
until the string of hearts grew
clasping, clinging, binding.
Its hold rotted the timber,
collapsing the felt roof,
but the structure remained intact.
A green patchwork
created its own shelter.
Decades later, it’s still growing,
still homing woodlice, beetles and spiders:
sturdy against the rain,
glistening with sunlight
and entwining new flowers.
This year, an ivy heart
has reached the nook in our fir tree,
where I sit snug between sunlit
russet branches, nursing
my troubled thoughts.
The wrinkled bark reminds me
of Dad’s weathered skin,
the crook between his thumb and finger,
his firm grasp planting a sapling
or steadying a nail for his hammer.
The knack of tools and fixing
worked into every muscle,
his fingers grip as tightly as before,
only slower, less determinedly.
I’m not sure if he’s come
to admire a little wildness,
or no longer has the strength
to tackle it.
Handed on now Dad’s reached seventy,
his clock takes its place at the top of our stairs.
Its system of pendulum, weights and cogs
beyond me, the ticking’s an agitation I can’t quite
white-noise. I’ll wind the piece as shown.
Not because I need the dial’s numbers
or the hands’ circling to pace my days.
But because it’s Dad’s time, his giving it
to me: the unending tic of its tock
spells the words we feel but can’t speak.
Sarah James is a prize-winning poet, fiction writer, journalist and photographer. Her collections include plenty-fish (Nine Arches Press), shortlisted in the International Rubery Book Awards, and The Magnetic Diaries (Knives Forks and Spoons Press) highly commended in the Forward Prizes. Although she hasn’t inherited her father’s love of gardening or clocks, she enjoys time outside, walking, cycling and exploring nature. Her website is at www.sarah-james.co.uk.