Don't mind the clatter: it's my infant
father, trailing a tin-can train
from room to room through a draughty
Dundee parsonage – kitchen
to scullery, and back again.
He totters as far as the broken wooden table-
top, propped at the wall, then through
the gap between the wood and the open
toolbox round which he must manoueuvre
string and train and him. – There's the roguish screw
on the table's underside, on which he will
impale his hand as he trips but
keeps from falling. I've pictured it often:
the steel tip sinking
through the flesh of his four-year-old palm.
He prevails, advances to the era of Boy's Own,
electronics tricks and Dan Dare, No. 1
space hero, Pilot of the Future!
All this was in the days before the dooms
and disappearances, falls he couldn't
break: the bloom and wither
of a marriage too soon over-
blown, the games his daughter brought
from the playground: French elastic,
fivestones, two-ball, One man went to mow...
and the changeable weather
of the high streets: Thresher, Comet,
Woolworths, Phones4U, Blockbuster – Everything
must go! And did, each time
with feeling, like the putting out of candles
on an altar, edge to centre. At the final
telling words too proved unequal
to the task of staying put: croquet, cassette
and cheerio. So long,
But that is still to happen. Now the sting
arrives: the high notes flare
and catch, become the howl that rises
into the homely air
as the blood ascends
to the site of the wound
near to where the hand is joined
to the wrist, to the left
of the lunate bone where by and by
a scar, very faint – a distant
but reachable star – will form and remain.
Julia Copus was born in London in 1969, a stone’s throw from the Young Vic theatre, and now lives in Somerset. She has won First Prize in the National Poetry Competition and the Forward Prize for Best Single Poem, and has been shortlisted for both the T S Eliot Prize and the Costa Poetry Award. This poem is from her fourth collection, Girlhood (Faber, 2019), which won the Derek Walcott Prize for Poetry. In 2018, Julia was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.