I’m going to begin my light-hearted blog by talking about my granddad dying.
When my granddad died in the summer of last year, my dad and I were the ones who tied up the loose ends. Provided there are no mysteries to solve or any plot twists in the last act, closing the book on someone’s life is generally easy business; a quick trip to the register office, the bank, a few calls, and you can tie up 93 years in a couple of hours and still have time for a cream tea.
The real struggle comes with the sorting of possessions. Naturally, there’s the physical strain of emptying drawer after drawer of retained receipts and 93 years’ worth of cards, but, of course, the real, heavy weight is on the old ticker. The realisation that approximately 95% of what you leave behind will be – out of necessity – of greater concern to the bin-men than to your loved-ones is something I didn’t really want to learn about life. But, for better or worse, this final ritual, the sweeping of the stage after the closing of the curtains, is full of learning, though not necessarily about the deceased.
Besides photographic evidence proving that my granddad, contrary to popular belief, had once in fact been a young man, the major revelation was that I might not even be the most pretentiously artsy member of my family. That distinction now belongs to my dad, whose album of black and white photography had been hiding in the back of a wardrobe for decades.*
I’ll confess, a little shamefully, that I didn’t even know my dad had even a passing interest in photography, but since stumbling on his old album he has been producing all sorts of weird and wonderful photography and he certainly has a captive audience in me. His experiments have been a continual source of indirect inspiration for my own pretentiousness, and yesterday, as I recovered from a hangover on a train full of crying, screaming toddlers, I mentally escaped by thinking about one of his latest photographs:
Shadow on a Hill
The photograph had already struck me as pretty special, but I had spent a large part of that morning reading some Ted Hughes poetry (whilst still intoxicated). In his nature poems, Ted Hughes uses language in an unprecedentedly primal way. The words don’t read as merely descriptive; in fact, it barely reads like language, but as if he has used actual bits of soil, wind and rain. The language can be quite brutal, and it seemed to suit the brutality of my dad’s photograph. So I got to work on a poem.
I wish I’d attempted a more Hughes-like interpretation of my dad’s photograph, but, oddly enough, I ain’t no Ted Hughes, particularly on a 15 minute train journey after a night which saw me consume drinks that I am at least 7 years too old to be drinking. The poem’s imperfect, rushed, but I’m still a little disappointed that nature figures so little when this is the part of the image that draws me so much to the photograph. But perhaps the poem’s focus goes some way to explaining why the hell I started this blog talking about my granddad: how often do we say something about something by saying something about something else? (Shakespeare – eat your heart out).
Our Last Supper
ended with a starter: asparagus
like icicles, snapping between bared teeth.
What do I bring to the table? Your candle
waited patiently behind bottles
and more bottles, three Christmases running.
The flame gasps under my thumb –
our last wick. I’ll admit I scuppered
the dog’s evening. He used to bark
like a general rallying disheartened
troops. Now he’s part of the furniture:
tired, silent. I dragged him out back.
We watered the lawn and made for the hills.
For hours, all was sweat and joints straining.
Only now, alone on the black hills, does a thought pass
through my head like a cloud, fraying over the fields, unfolding.
*On the scale of pretension, black and white photography just trumps poetry and is second only to avant-garde performance art (e.g, Yoko Ono screaming at a soft boiled egg as a metaphor for militant veganism)