February 2nd 2015 330




Present absent lost.


He was here there

but parts were absent

lost on an Italian beach

amid 90 per cent casualties.


Locked in a camp

with one water faucet

and 7000 thirsty starving men

waiting for red cross parcels.


He never wore

his campaign medals

or marched

up and down


Saluting cenotaphs

as old soldiers do

at the parades

each year in town.


We lived

with photographs

sealed in a black box

locked under his bed


Photographs taken

of pre-war days

Serpentine deck chairs

of Regents park


Hyde Park

Speakers Corner

on Sundays

and those friends


His memories

all gone

now then

and now he’s gone too


Lost in translation

the silence

of survivors

shame and guilt



And the inability

to talk

to describe

to anyone


Who’s never been

there, out there,

who can understand

without telling.


Without explaining

the emotion

the fear

and the elation.


Then the shame

and we his children

deal with

his silence.

sudden tempers


of conflict and

alone in his garden.



to silence




Of being there

but not here

except to share a past

that came before.


He returned

but he was not

the same man

they said.


I knew only

this man

that man

not the one before.


Sometimes it was like

dancing with a ghost,

the unsaid words

the brief glimpses.



And the sound

of a knife scraping

food endlessly

round the plate.


It was always easier

to eat fast and get down

and leave than listen

to that scraping knife.


Some days you became

a grey thin shadow

discernible not solid

but there somehow.


I saw you cry

after the death of your father

but it was your anger

that came back with you.


You came to me

after your mother’s passing

but you shirked the hand

I placed on your shoulder.


Present absent lost.


First published in Rob Cullen’s Collection Uncertain Times Octavo Press 2016.