My Grandad

Butter Beans and Lum Hats

My Grandad didn’t like poppies.
He liked vegetables- butter beans
And cabbages – a sentry in a Lum Hat
Impassively staring across the allotment
– trenches of turnips waiting.
I’d watch him scythe through grass
And mutter in crumpled silence,
At the tissues of crimson red
Left dangling on the barbed wire
– withering before their time.
He didn’t like poppies, or pigeons
I’d watch him pluck and mutter
In the crumple – at the exposed flesh, blood
And white feathers floating easily across his mind
– whistling a lone piper’s lament.
He didn’t like poppies – he loved their roots
Buried under the damp kiss
Of the soil that nourished his soul.
I’d watch and listen to his silence
Marching across the years to then.

Under my Grandad’s Chair

On a narrow road
worn at the edges,
with the odd passing place
a loop of golden braid
and shells of Axminster cream,
there sat me –

under his chair,
distracted for a second
on a jam sandwich,
Bond’s Aston Martin was sliding
across the frozen lake of linoleum
towards the skirting board
and instant confiscation.

Under his chair,
the voice landed assuringly
‘I’m still here, Jimmy, they’ve not got me yet’
and my gaze would fix once more
on the single, shiny bullet
standing on edge
next to the Capstan cigarettes.

Under his chair,
with its polished bowed legs
that over time began to match his own
– there I sat in awe
of a Black Watch soldier
burying his past deep –
in the fields of France.

Under his chair,
guarded by two spindles
wrapped in bandages,
secured by polished black shoes
that twitched when the wrestling was on the telly,
and a coffee table moved further away
in defiance of Big Daddy.

Under his chair,
a grey blizzard would gently flake
on to the Axminster road
with the ash
from a volcanic Capstan eruption
caused by three falls
but never a submission.

Under his chair,
the slightest of touch
of the fiddle propped next to the shining bullet
and a heavy silence would descend
as if to expect the flares ignite his memory
or the whistle blown back then
on the gloom of the Somme.

Under his chair,
the guards moved off, the Fiddle went,
the shiny bullet shimmered yet stayed,
the whistle inside blew, he was up and over
the District Nurse’s fence
in polished black shoes
to Roll Call at The Atholl Arms.

Frozen Epaulettes

When the light was on,
– a fuzzy smudge of Jaffa
In the front parlour window,
It didn’t mean he was in.
Me, the Prince of Acne,
Like a hedge-dragged sheep
Stumbling back in time
– into my Grandad’s house.
With an inherent sense of thirst,
He had gone, not passed away gone
But gone-to-the Pub gone
– his weapons were missing.
His tobacco and his fiddle
Like grenades and a rifle,
Essential for his daily route march
– three hundred yards over open ground.
What time should I arrive?
– ten minutes before he left.
There on Wade’s Bridge, like a
Trusted bow-legged metronome
– in an old cloth cap,
And epaulettes of frost
To respect the rank of his determination
– defying the flick of the razor wind.

A fiddle case bowed ahead for slipstream,
With me astern, like a collie dog
In the bend of his knee, slabbering
– and nodding when permitted.
A corner seat – the hallowed spot,
The Saloon Bar of the Atholl Arms,
Where this old Black Watch soldier glowed
In the warm hug of gathered admiration.
He never bought a drink, not now.
He’d paid in France – the Somme,
And when his words quivered
The bow would bounce the flak –
deflected beyond the Gantry Ridge,
Until a wee dram of angel’s breath
– prescribed medication for the soul,
Arrived to announce another story.
The very rhythm of his name
Was carved into the air –
Back then when I sat in awe of him
And lifted my eyes to the Alter
– gripped by curled fingers that
Rheumatism and the Kaiser
Had bitten. Maybe the odd note lost
But not the soul of this brave old Soldier.

7 responses to “My Grandad

  1. lovely poem, thank you. I can picture your grandfather walking to the pub through this poem. And thanks for retweeting my appearance in the Black Sheep Journal – are you now based in the USA?

    • Thank you for taking the time to comment. I did a series of poems based on my Grandfather and the effect the Great War had on him and then my memories of him from that. I am pleased you connected with the poem.
      Although I am lucky enough to have a generous following in the USA, I am still based in Scotland but travel way more than I would like.

  2. I read and loved ‘Butter beans and Lum Hats” before, then today I read Under my granddad’s chair. There is so much here I had to read it more than once, and slowly. What a great, detailed tribute. There is so much there. Has your family read this? I think it’s just marvelous.

    I only have a few memories of my grandfather. I think I should write them down. Thanks for this read. It really touched me.

    • Thank you.

      You should write them down. My poems – Under the Chair, Butter Beans and Frozen Epaulettes were written pretty much in sequence.
      I have written others such as Spotted Bones and Pocketful of Seed that also draw on my memories of him but you should write yours down – you write wonderul poetry and this would be a fitting way of expressing your memories.

  3. maureen derome

    I may take up my pen again for words as well as for drawing- Under my grandads chair is a great tribute to your ancestor.
    The black watch connection is interesting (my dad)..

  4. maureen derome

    inspires me to take up the pen again for words- interesting connection with the black watch(my dad) a lovely poem,

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