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.
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. Salima [Biography] 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. (from www.poets.org)