• Kate Clarke

St Michael’s

Updated: Nov 16, 2020

Halfway along the path

turn right at the hawthorn tree

Then it would be: ‘hello nan’, so softly

You would stand between the two of them

Ada and George. A long conversation

Then we’d walk among angels and scrolls

and those awkward, formal lines

splashed with lichen now – saffron and lime

on ancient leaning stones. You would always say:

“Kirton, Chandler, Holloway

Good old Reading names”

There was often a tear

But it wasn’t death that brought you here

to stand at their feet. It was life

and lots of it

It was raucous laughter, magic tricks

It was coins disappeared up white shirt sleeves

And lit cigarettes emerging from ears

It was the yarn George spun about a snipers’ shell

slicing though one cheek, and the other as well

to explain identical scars

(from wisdom teeth extractions)

It was The Eagle comic thrown on your bed

With a ‘There you go, lad’

And the ruffle of a gardener’s hand on a small, blond head

It was Chipperfield’s big top.

You had George’s build. And probably his gait

a Grenadier Guard, he walked tall and straight

But you added a side-to-side action

Stolen direct from Johnny Cash

I would walk to school each day

past St Michael’s Rectory

and its overhanging fig tree

Later, a teenager, I’d visit a blind old lady there

I’d known since I was a baby

Austrian, a housekeeper

she looked like your nan

Old ladies looked like that back then

She cried for a Jewish family

all taken by the Nazis

I have a photo of me, a toddler

at St Michael’s gate, with Auntie Pam

Polished, red shoes. Visiting my gran

Isn’t there a picture of you with your little girl in this spot?

Among these photos, did I imagine that?

Decades on, you still worried

for Ada and her secrets

Her teenaged years in service

the mother she barely mentioned

evenings when the tears came

and: “Terry, you don’t know you’re born”

The ‘cousins’ and ‘aunts’ in town

who shared her unspilled knowledge

They spoke with dark looks in sweet shops

And in short nods at bus stops

over a young boy’s head

Was there another baby

passed along the family

Like contraband?

You couldn’t press, but wanted to understand

You never did miss much, boy or man

Kate Clarke




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