I see this poem as a companion piece to A Family Occasion, though my interest here is less in memory and false memory than in fantasy and a child's imagination. I am nine months younger in this poem, but the memories seem firmer and more reliable (perhaps because there is no one who can contradict me about what I was thinking), though if I am correct in that it might suggest that I was suffering from grossly uneven development!
Spin Didn't Begin with Tony Blair
Coughing, I'd missed a lot of what he'd said,
but fairy air, that much I'd heard, and there-
by come to think the doctor scary who
had always been my friend - and who
had never spooked me half to death before!
But fairy air...? Could human beings breathe
the like of it and live? Dad put me straight.
Not 'fairy air'. He called it 'extra-airy air',
your chum. The stuff to give you back your puff.
He knows a wizard place with kindly folk
who kind of magic children well
with just a whiff of it. He'll meet us there.
I saw the place at once - as clear
as anything I've ever seen:
walls webs of sparkling glass; shelves bright
with wands and pickled toads -
and jars of honeyed air. And there,
behind the counter, taller now
in wizard's hat (less chilling too), my "docker man"
was taking from his bag the magic props
he'd always bring on visits: pills,
his stethoscope and, best of all,
his books of British Empire swaps!
Those stamps were passports to exotic lands,
to Montserrat and Sarawak,
Aden and Samoa. Just
what I've been looking for! he'd drool,
perhaps of some quite common stamp of mine,
then offer me a "Sea Horse", Bechuanaland, five bob,
maybe. One landscape with the Monarch's Head,
my Grandma said, does more than all his pills!
Made welcome by a snowed-on Oberon in bronze,
then stretchered on a flying carpet, in
through busy casualty. Strange wonderland,
where sterilizers whistled jets of steam.
How worrying was that? Two armies poised for war
I'd left; men bunkered in my bed;
I hardly had the time to stay for tea!
Then lemonade and buns with cream.
No mention yet of oxygen. Instead,
still shadow-boxing truth, another tack:
It might be fun to stay the night, they said.
"The night when Father Christmas comes," I wailed.
"What fun is that?" They were persuasive then,
that he who knew the whereabouts
of every child, would know
for sure to find me there
where seven rag doll dwarfs
sang carols over boughs of holly,
and miners' lanterns hung above each bed.
I said my silent prayer aloud: "Drums, if you please...
an army ambulance... but most of all, a Snow
White doll, to keep the dwarfs in check."
The Christmas tree lights blazed more brightly yet.
All things conspired - a nurse who must
have fanned a latent spark in me,
so easily she worked my strings -
to coax me out of my mistrust.
But fairylands can harbour evil things.
Across from me, a terrorist,
a sleeper 'till the time was right.
Now, with the confidence that heavy armour brings,
he'd send his Christmas tanks, he said,
to snuff out my Snow White.
The moon petals the sea. Rose petals the sea. Stone sea. Stone petals. Rose petals of stone. Stone rising before me. Sea moves. How moves...
extract from the poem Koi by John Burnside All afternoon we've wandered from the pool to alpine beds and roses ...
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