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Monday 23 June 2008

A Question of Gender

The latest - and for a good while, probably the last - in my series on childhood.

The house was different that morning,
the shadows darker, highlights brighter,
people quieter, breakfast just a touch
more special, grandad toasting bread,
thick slices on a long wire fork, the fire
too big, the room too warm, dad not at work,
mum still in bed, and gran (who would have
felt a scandal coming on if she had guessed
how I knew - thought I knew - what lay behind
the fuss) with her large saucepan on the hob.
At which point he appears, the doctor,
in the doorway - and me but half-way
through my toast. His bag a disappointing
flat, looks empty - and too small to ever
hold a baby. Manfully I try
to play it like I do not care. Upstairs
a cry. "Good lungs on him!" my father says.
So now I care, with knees red raw from bed
times praying for a sister. Getting wind
of which, the doctor's ferretting for whys
and wherefores - though too subtle, not in
my face enough to break me down. I keep
my counsel, fob him off: "So we can call
her Sylvia," I lie. They all at this
time - doctor, family, the world at large -
are too ingenuous to comprehend
the full extent of that dark place within
my soul. He rolls himself a cigarette:
"Small problem, simply solved," he muses
to himself... "we call the little lad
Sylvesta." "Over my dead body!"
will growl my mother when she hears. It's all
a great distraction from what lies beneath
that off-white lie (mum always says there are
no truly white ones): my first craving
of the flesh, my first illicit itch,
my twice-repeated, horror-greeted plea
(the voice of old Beelzebub, gran says)
to add a dolls' house to the toys I own.
A sister, though, might bring the longed-for
object in her train, might be prevailed upon
to share it with outlandish beings,
dolls of different kind, long raised in
caves and tunnels underground, all sworn
to games of gross and most ungirlish play.


Conda Douglas said...

Fun poem, love the sly and delicious humor--and the payoff was excellent. But I'm curious--why is this the last for a while in your childhood poems?

Tommaso Gervasutti said...

Very vivid images in your poem dear Dave, a work full of "immediacies".

About this subject I coudn't resist after mornings and mornings:


When after breakfast I place the mug
on the saucer, in its smaller centre
made for a cup, a gap in the curve
on one side is what I carefully
make the mug find
where it overlaps and oscillates.
I tap it gently with the fingertip
to make it teeter endlessly
and I gaze at it, relishing
this beam of eternity.
The seconds of a sea encased
in an incidental stage
where a god is at leisure
by just getting the chance.
Have we really to get out of this?

Best wishes, Davide

Dave King said...

Hi Conda
Thanks for the comments. Much appreciated. To answer your question: I am just not very prolific.

Dave King said...

Thanks for dropping by again. I am not sure that I fully understand the last five lines of your poem, but I do love the image of perpetual motion, whether it be internal or external.

Rachel Fox said...

I like the content of this but it does make me want more of it...like a nice big fat short story of it. I want to know what the boy was called in the end...and how you dressed him and whether you ever got hold of a doll's house...by hook or by crook. You seem to have a lot of stories you want to tell...I see a volume of tales of your childhood maybe...lots of twisted details, lots of inner wanderings..
But maybe I'm just being greedy.

Dave King said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dave King said...

Hi Rachel,
Yes, I think you are right about the lots of inner wanderings, but I doubt there is enough material in any one episode even to make a short story, though I have thought once or twice of trying my hand at prose poetry - which I guess might come out like a short story. (He was called Peter: I'd have to check the photo album to see how we dressed him!)

The Insane Writer said...

I'm not a huge fan of poetry, but I'm impressed after reading yours. It kept me intrigued!

Dave King said...

The Insane Writer
Thanks for that. Modesty forbids me making much comment, but truly appreciated.

Conda Douglas said...

Hey Dave--yes a simple answer, but understandable, especially with poetry.

Francis Scudellari said...

I liked the flow of this piece very much. And you paint the scene beautifully ... I felt like I was there in the kitchen.

Dave King said...

I overlooked your question re the dolls house, I fear. No, I never did manage to acquire one. No chance of that, but I did manage a Noah's Ark, which I converted and populated with all kinds of odd beings, mostly made of pipe cleaners.

Dave King said...

Thanks for taking the time to drop by, and thanks too for the kind words. Positive feedback (of whatever kind) is always welcome.

Jim Murdoch said...

Unusually this poem does not remind me of childhood. It reminds me of the time my wife was in the process of delivering our first child. As the baby was being hauled from her I remember clearly thinking, "Please let it be a girl." I know it's generally assumed that a man would want a son but since I wasn't very good at being a boy when I was one I didn't imagine I'd have much time for a son if I did get one. As it happens my wish was granted and I was handed a beautiful baby girl to whom I sang, Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ra because the nurses had, for some unaccountable reason, all been Irish.

Roxana said...

Hi Dave, I have to say how much I like this, I've always felt that writing about children is a difficult task, it is quite tricky to avoid the artificiality of the adult's gaze struggling to recover what has been lost. but there is lightness in your words, and a sense of innocence of the soul, and tenderness - it makes me instantly feel good when I read it, and this is very important.

Lucy said...

Pity it might be the last for a while, you do write so well about childhood. Nothing saccharine, a bit edgy, but a sense that it's all probably just about be OK... I do like the idea of wanting to populate the dolls' house with your other beings doing 'gross, ungirlish' things! As a not very girlish girl myself I think I might have rather enjoyed that... What a good memory for these details you have.

Dave King said...

A super memory there - you should write a poem anout it perhaps. O)r did you already? Thanks for the comment.

Dave King said...

Welcome, and thanks for stopping by. Yes, it is difficult to write about children and childhood, so many traps to fall into, but it's maybe a little easier when the childhood is your own. What interests me is how all these early experiences come together - or don't - to influence the growth of the self-picture. Your words are too kind, but much appreciated.

Dave King said...

An interesting comment, the one about it being just about all right, for one of my most constant memories of childhood is that of thinking that things were just about all right - though not in those words, of course. My memory of these things is very selective, I think. I mentioned to Roxana my interest in the growth of the self-picture. The other big interest is the degre to which our early memories have interacted or merged with things we have been told. Thanks again.

Elizabeth said...

Wow, I just love this poem. I had the joy of being fourth born. Two big brothers and a big sister...Ah the wonder of exploring EVERYONE'S toys! My children two daughters then a son have such fun finding ways to include everyone in their games...lately playing "house" has taken on a Pirate theme with a 9 year old neighbor boy joining in. He douesn't mind being the "dad" as long as he can be a pirate!

I too, love the way you seem to be able to get your adult self aout of the way in these memoir poems. I think they would be lovely tales tole in prose. I'd love the story of the Noah's Ark too!
God Bless, EJT

Elizabeth said...

PS, I added you to my list today...hope that's okay?!
Pax, EJT

Dave King said...

Welcome and many thanks for the contribution. I am feeling slightly bowled-over by all the nice things being said. I may even have to reconsider whether it will be my last for a while - perhaps take a leaf out of Jim's book; he once commented that when inspiration doesn't come we have to do without it. Glad to be on your list, if I may return the compliment.
Thanks again.

Jim Murdoch said...

Dave, I don't have a book. I kept sitting around waiting to be inspired and never got round to writing it. Seriously, the time I have wasted waiting for the scales to fall from my eyes is criminal. I used to think that poems that weren't written "under inspiration" were somehow second-rate and not worth the paper they were written on. Ah, the folly of youth.

I don't know if you've read this poem of mine - I can't remember half the time what I've posted or where - but I think you will appreciate it more than most. It came after a fairly long dry spell, out of the blue, like a long lost brother knocking on your door:

The Poetry of Regrets

Poems turn up out of the blue these days
like family
and usually when things are going badly.

Once they were with us, day in and day out
we lived with them
but never really appreciated them.

I guess that's what growing up's all about,
finding ourselves
with too many regrets and fewer answers.

Only wish I'd said more when I had the
words to say it.
but you don't turn family away. Not ever.

25th May 2001

If I'm starting to feel the grip of Time about my throat you must be too. Even more. Sit down and write. And if your first line is no good then move onto the second. You can always rethink the first line later. I'm sure you find getting up to walk a bit harder these day. Christ, even I do. I never thought I'd be this stiff this young but once you get your momentum going it's not so bad is it?

Dave King said...

I had not read your poem before, but you were right: I do appreciate it. I was never one to wait for inspiration, only a good idea. (Is there a difference? I read only this morning of someone who dreamt a whole short story. Wow! Manna from Heaven, wouldn't you say?) Time does begin to press, I must admit. I do wonder sometimes if I collected all my duff first lines together, perhaps it would turn ouit to be my best poem yet!

Jim Murdoch said...

Ah, 'firsties'! My wife introduced me to this game. Someone provides you with a opening line and you have to write a poem underneath it. It's quite amazing how little stimulation a writer actually needs to get him going. The thing is, if I were to pick a line myself it probably wouldn't work. I suppose it's the challenge aspect of it.

Someone was complaining a while ago about writer's block and I tried it on her and within a couple of hours she had a poem posted. So, here's one I dreamed up easily twenty years ago that I have never been able to do a damn thing with:

The French have it right, Death should be a woman

Probably I'd make it the first two lines myself because I tend to avoid long lines but it's up to you.


hope said...

Ah, a kindred soul who knows that revisiting childhood [and sharing it] is not a sign of senility. :)

Dave, thanks for letting me peek in the door where your youth still dwells.

As for waiting for "inspiration", a college professor once told me that "perspiration" was more like it...we waste lots of time sweating it out instead of just writing. Sometimes I do that...just write. Then I put it aside and go back later to weed. Sometimes I actually find some words worth keeping. ;)

Write on gentlemen, write on.

Lucas said...

I really like the way you take memory spools of Then and cut and splice them in the cutting room of Now to produce poems of childhood with such wit and wisdom. I agree with so many of the above comments. Why stop here?

Dave King said...

Hi Jim,
Yes, I have tried firsties on myself - and no, you are right: it doesn't work! And yes, I think that's the first two lines. I'll have a go, but don't hold your breath! Thanks for the feedback.

Dave King said...

Much thanks for the hope you give! I have long ago stopped checking to see what is and what is not a sign of senility. Better I do not know, methinks.

Dave King said...

Again, much thanks for the encouragement and the helpful comments. It really is amazing to think that all this started from helpful comments by one friend and has been sustained by others.

Anonymous said...

An immediately engaging piece of sustained narrative with a fine sense of its time in every detail.

Dave King said...

Thanks Dick, both for dropping by and for the encouragement.