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Long Distance II -- Tony Harrison

Guest poem sent in by Salima Virani
(Poem #969) Long Distance II
 Though my mother was already two years dead
 Dad kept her slippers warming by the gas,
 put hot water bottles her side of the bed
 and still went to renew her transport pass.

 You couldn't just drop in.  You had to phone.
 He'd put you off an hour to give him time
 to clear away her things and look alone
 as though his still raw love were such a crime.

 He couldn't risk my blight of disbelief
 though sure that very soon he'd hear her key
 scrape in the rusted lock and end his grief.
 He knew she'd just popped out to get the tea.

 I believe life ends with death, and that is all.
 You haven't both gone shopping; just the same,
 in my new black leather phone book there's your name
 and the disconnected number I still call.
-- Tony Harrison
This one is a heart wrencher.  I love the way the poem starts off by
letting the reader think it is about the father..a man who has lost his
love, his wife, but still cannot come to terms with it.  Your heart goes
out to this man who, at first instance, seems to be in a state of
denial..and yet its not quite so..cause 'he clears away her things to
look alone' . So its not about him not being aware that she is dead and
gone..but it is about his resolve to still keep her alive and doing all
the little mundane things for her that he must have been doing for the
many years that were married.  You can almost see not just their living
room and the fire but the pattern of their entire married life from this
one little snapshot.  She's gone ..and yet he harbours this hope..even
conviction that 'very soon he'd hear her key scrape in the rusted lock'.

Just when you think you know what the writer is trying to tell you, just
when you think you can empathise with him, his love for his father..and
his torment at watching his father every day as he goes about his
life..doing everyday things for a wife that is long gone..just then..
the poem jolts you.  The last verse tells you ..the poem was never about
the father at all.  The father is dead and gone too..  It's about the
writer and his own struggle to accept the finality of his parents' death
and his own refusal to see them as disconnected from his life.



Tony Harrison was born in Leeds, England, in 1937. He is the author of
more than fifteen books of poetry, including most recently Permanently
Bard: Selected Poetry (Bloodaxe Books, 1996) and V. and Other Poems
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1990). He is also a noted translator,
dramatist, and librettist whose works have been performed by Britain's
National Theatre and the New York Metropolitan Opera. His honors include
a Unesco fellowship, the Faber Memorial Award, a U.S. Bicentennial
fellowship, and the European Poetry Translation Prize. He was made a
fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1984. He lives in
Newcastle-upon-Tyne and New York.

62 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Amit Chakrabarti said...

Ooh, this is so lovely! And brilliantly constructed too.
Thank you for this.


Jackycooper24460 said...

This poem is amazing. It is just as my mother is since the death of my
father. Really very very moving. Wonderful !

Anonymous said...

great poem, but how can you explain the structure and theme of the poem?

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