I wanted to remember my dad, who was nothing special, except of course he was in the way we all have a possibility of being to a son.
He was born in 1911 and the youngest of a large family, which was normal then, 11 or 12 altogether. He was a link to another world in that way. He was born in Walsall in the West Midlands, and aside from his time in the army, when he saw Belgium and Gibraltar, spent his whole life there a couple of miles from where he’d been born and brought up. He had me late in life so was always an older dad than my contemporaries fathers, and a disabled War Pensioner, so never went to work from the time I can remember. He was short, bald and nothing at all like the Dad in the Oxo Family ads, or any others that were a subliminal marker for what families were supposed to look like. But he was intelligent and affectionate, a reader, and how he related to the world I knew in those mid 60s, and what he had told me of the world he knew when he was young, have shaped me ever since in ways that are hard to define but are absolutely real. Habits of thought and response are formed from example and he was a lovely one to have.
When I moved away from home and came to live in Richmond, the London Richmond, he used to write a letter a week. He never did anything except be at home, walk to the betting shop, read the paper, and watch TV, and yet the letters were always interesting and always him. What writer could do better. One morning he went to the betting shop, placed a bet, posted a letter to me, and then had a heart attack and died right by the post box. He was 75. We drove up and the house was just as he’d left it. There were frozen peas on the side n the kitchen because he always left them out before boiling them. His slippers were still by the fireplace. It’s the strangest feeling going into an abandoned house but does let you know what a death is like. Someone leaves and never comes back. A day or so later, when we returned home, (but not the home I was from) the letter he had posted was on the mat waiting, his last word.
THE KINDNESS OF THE FALLING WORLD
He fell down in the street. He fell, his heart
attacked by silted arteries. He fell
and turned bright red, then blue, as people do
whose blood is thick with waste and lipid gel
and insufficient oxygen: the blue
features darkening as blushes depart.
But a whole man, not witless with disease,
not senses dwindled in a feeble frame
leaving him unaware of memories
of Lil, or me, or knowledge of his name.
Surname: Kelly. Forenames: Sidney Arthur.
Neighbours knew him. He was identified
by those who were close at hand. My father
who fell down far away and later died.
And later still I touched his cold repose
and was frightened, knowing then where pride goes;
touching his stiffened cheek, shaved spick and span,
understanding what blood is thicker than.
Everything that he was and did
is gone, is air. And all that remains
is in me, substantially dissolved.
I carry the characteristics
of an obscured and provincial
lineage in my chromosomes, in
the truth of my flesh, true whether I
am aware, or unaware, or lie.
But though his face inhabits my face
a conscious effort is required
to recall words, all the words that came
from his childhood then mine, in the voice
that revealed a living location,
the root of my recreated voice.
Attempting to examine his love
a tune that I don’t know the name of
comes alive from automatic lips,
as it came from his down the years.
An eight note, a repeated, dying
fall in comfortable time, sounding
as he walked about the house and street,
his mind abstracted. I body it
forth now, a column of words and air,
an organ of memory we share.
Roy Kelly has written stories and plays for BBC Radio long ago, writes articles on Bob Dylan, and has had poems published in The Spectator and elsewhere.