You’ll know when he’s back on the whisky,
because the taxi comes all the way out
from the town carrying the bottles, on the days
when the postman brings his cheque.
You’ll see it bump back down the muddied road
from the far end of the glen, to where the shell
of the family house huddles in its broken square
of unmown meadow, wire and pebbles.
His skinny dogs – the bearded collie
and the mongrel – chase its spinning tyres,
their sharp rasps spilling over the hillside
like too much water over a bath rim.
His muted, rheumy eyes gaze through them
and the lowered window, and for just a moment
he’s all his accumulated ages at once, and then
the man he is, older than his whispered years.
And when you finally call by at the house –
the days it’s taken him to drink it all having passed –
he’ll stand there sheepish by the missing front door,
and tell you how he’s been a naughty boy.
No clean hand waved a child off to our school.
The dads of all the kids I knew did filthy jobs,
and mine worked ghosters at the power plant,
cruel shifts pressing deep into the small, dark hours.
On his return, a poltergeist crashed into the backyard
beneath my bedroom window, like a coal train
hammering the tracks of a deserted station,
somewhere off in the full stop of an empty night.
More than once, his aching, splintered hand
pushed right through the thin panes of the door,
having expected – for some reason – to find it open.
I fell asleep again to the careful crunch of his footsteps,
and in the morning, a black sheet held on by tape
sealed the broken spaces, the glass all spirited away.
The sun will flee again soon, following its divine angle,
to fall beyond the hill, before the cool flow of night arrives.
The last car will leave the village and argue its way back up the road,
its driver tapping out a rhythm of fidgets on the steering wheel,
and all that will linger is the clong, clong, of the bell around the neck
of a goat, beckoning to its partner in the darkness,
and the slow, slow clap of the waves, studded with pebbles,
one by one, eating into the rounded belly of the bay.
Robert Ford lives on the east coast of Scotland, and writes poetry, short stories and non-fiction. He blogs at https://wezzlehead.wordpress.com