Family Plot - Joseph Allen

Sample text


Each evening it would arrive on time,

always the same slow knock at the door,

hesitant, as if afraid of remaining unanswered,

don’t mind Tam, your father would say,

he’s just lonely,

in need of a bit of company,

anyway, it passes the night,

now with your mother gone.

All night they’d sit,

huddled round the fire

chatting about the day at work,

gossiping about neighbours,

the smell of tobacco smoke,

Tam stealing glances as you

go about your work.

Your father tells you

to make Tam a bite

before he heads home,

in the kitchen you scrape

blue mould from the bread,

brew tea,

watching as Tam enjoys his toast,

praising the tea.


One by one I pin these medals

on the right,

I carry them for you,

looking in the mirror

I have to laugh

remembering each year

how you ranted against the marchers,

saying not one of them

ever saw active service,

yet they carry the flags

solemnly, lay the wreaths

while those who fought get ignored.

I parade the streets of the town

as you never did,

very few of your age are left,

each year less,

the unfamiliar weight on my chest

signifying a closeness we never had.


The Angelus served as our clock,

lonely sound of the bell

echoing across the fields,

telling us it was midday.

Forbidden, in your room

leafing through that Bible,

feasting on those colour plates,

all the way from Palestine.

And those rows of candles

in the Cathedrale Ste-Cecile,

stepping out into the blinding sunlight,

we drank beer after beer

waiting for the train to Toulouse.

Some days I feel so alone here,

exiled from my memories,

listening in vain

for that midday bell.


Five children grew here,

small terraced houses

backing onto pigeon lofts and park.

I too spent a childhood there

among aunts and uncles

a grandfather grown biblical with age.

These are the things that shape us,

a dark winter afternoon

the sound of a storm in the trees

smell of clothes soaking

in a tin bath in the kitchen.

A Twelfth morning

swords polished

and tested for weight

a row of bowlers

on the mantelpiece.


These words we carry with us,

echoes of a voice

learnt at the hearth,

our childish mouths broken

on unfamiliar sounds.

Ours is a bitter tongue,

seasoned by wind and rock

mouths black from berries.

Time silences us

each generation we are less,

speaking from the past.


Lay me here,

let me listen

to the sound,

preaching from the bandstand

will reach me among the graves.

By this wall

my childhood runs

fearful of churchyard silence.

This is our comfort

to rest in the familiar

of who we were.