States of Poetry 2016 - ACT | 'Dad' by Sarah Rice

We would sit on the wings of his knees
and see-saw our way through stories
              magical suitcases
                           Romanian folktales
              golden apples
                           and sea voyages
Sister                                                     and I
                           bookended
              holding each square corner
              and turning the pages

Sometimes it was pontoon
betting with matchsticks and forgetting
to hold the plastic cards out of sight
in our keen bending over the game

The tooth-cleaning song
upstairs and downstairs
and always ending with pie

Gathering leaves into high dry piles
               with crinkly edges
                in a navy roller-neck
Planting out and potting up
with rubber knee pads over the jeans
engaged in a small prayer service
to the row of terracotta pots laid out on the grass
and after offering fistfuls of potting mix to each
his large palms open on his knees
showed the black grains clinging along the creases

Unwrapping fish and chips from layers of grey grease paper
                         that the oil had already worked through
Singing Irish shanties
                         Scottish ditties
                                      gold rush songs in the car
and walking hand-in-hand across the car-park
               Playing squash together
the two of us in that odd white square
with old wooden rackets and older dunlops
the long reach of his hand letting him sit pretty in the centre
while I wove crazily about him in a mad maypole dance
                of sweat and the rubber slap of shoe-soles
with the tiny ball greying but warming over time
til it was a hot coal burning in the palm each time it was retrieved

Still the love of paprika and garam masala
                dukkah and kimchi
                             fennel seed
                curry powder
                             turmeric
biting on the bitter seeds and smiling
palmfuls flung into the pan with abandon
and the remaining powder clapped away in proud applause

And a very cold night in a tent to see Halley's comet
                       which I never saw
but swore I did with nods and ahs
when he pointed and held the binoculars for me
              despite the fog-smudged sky
and over-night involved a mid-sleep trip
to the concrete toilet-block together in the blackness
and an impromptu run around the cold field
to warm ourselves in the strange emptiness

                         And parties where
                                                 after egg and spoon
the orange wheelbarrow was filled with more than sister and me
           more even than all our small friends put together
                                      We would clasp the plastic rim
and it would buckle and tilt on a crazy angle
but he always got the big wheel turning
                            could always lift us
push us round the garden
no matter how many
how heavy.

 

 Sarah Rice


 Recording

'Dad' begins at 3:09

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