My father licked the bones of Dickens
and ate meat from an English plate
examining the corpse of Eng Lit corpus
Hooded and Patmored, minor-poeted
and Thompsoned in an opiate religion.
What was the aim of this?
Career? Chit-chat? A culture
that said knowing is earned distance,
making one big, above the run of whining
rugby players, RSAs and marching girls?
Or was it love and awe? Perhaps
the pipe that fumed in thought and chuckles –
as keys click-clackered to his pounding –
said genius is genius after all,
and there’s life yet in a foxed English text.
So bring on all the Bagstocks and the Skimpoles,
the sick Paul Dombeys and the Little Nells,
the Cartons carted off to guillotining
and Wellers telling fat men to watch out
and Angels in the House, and worlds
But I’m still slogging along southern beaches
twelve thousand miles from Cockney jumping-off,
leg-in leg-out, a complex hokey-cokey,
footnoting all their jokes, imagining their givens,
thinking their commonplace exotic.
I had non-English forebears anyway,
(crofters and Belfast counters and some bog-men).
This thing’s not mine, but still attached
like Nessus’ shirt, and tearing flesh
whenever I unbutton it, or try to rip it off.
I could be the spotty kid in sulking.
I could pretend to have found my own thing
in my own national neighbourhood,
and overrate the crop of local boobies,
claiming significance in coiled springs.
But that would be a sham. It’s grabbed my throat,
cuts out the sunshine as it gives its light,
makes the black sand and sea forever other,
the flora, fauna subject for remarks
because they are not oak and ash and foxing.