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Julia Copus: a poem

So Long

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,

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.

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