Ian in the Student House
Palmer Park Avenue, Reading, c.2003
I remember this entrance hall,
long and painted darkly. There’s a cat, too, somewhere amongst the bins
or out in the park across the road.
The view from the bay window
is not much changed. And here, our salvaged wingback chair. Here, the smoking jackets
we bought online. I’m sorry I don’t recall
if they were quilted or not, the pattern
of brocade. I’m sorry if the roof still leaks, if that old truss has rotted through
and rent a gash in the ceiling,
that you must brush damp plaster
from your trousers, pick chunks out of your cut-glass tumbler.
We could never afford
a taste for whiskey, drank thin wine instead
like extras in a Bizet opera, passed round our charity shop decanter.
Maybe I should stop
hauling you out,
stop keeping you here, your ill-advised beard grown unkempt,
your face lengthening.
In the narrow garden,
you press down the turf in your carpet slippers, your back is turned
and I can’t quite make out
what colour your shirt is.
It looks like it’s about to rain. And I’ve been singing that song again.
The one about the broken banjo
and every word loaded with too many syllables.
The one you taught me all the way home one night past the lake, its sleeping geese,
the tree stump that looked like a dog.
Yesterday, I was singing that song
packing the car, putting the wellies in their special liner. It’s half term.
I’ve got two children now. And a dog.
I’m sorry that I didn’t come
to your funeral. I was at an age where I didn’t think I could,
that my manager might not believe me
– people don’t die at twenty-seven,
he’d have said. It seemed to me that you’d so much to lose.
I’m scared that I could do that too.
It lurks somewhere inside me
to throw it all away. There is so much in this world that it feels like aching
constantly and maybe you can explain why,
now you are no longer here.
To you, everything has dwindled into deep perspective.
So I summon you up,
fail to ask the question
and sing to you instead, the yellow instrument playing until it breaks down
and it’s taken again to the me-le-lender’s sho-lo-lop
(you’re favourite part)
then I can’t remember the next line. There’s no one here
to whisper it to me
in the front room of our old house,
the amber wash of light from a limp shade, the smell of old fabric, nail heads
glinting in every board.
Luke Palmer has written two pamphlets of poetry, In all my books my father dies (Red Ceilings Press, 2021) and Spring in the Hospital (Prole Books, 2018) which won the Prole Pamphlet contest. His debut novel for young adults, Grow (Firefly Press) was released in July.