On His Birthday
“You cannot live in the present.
At least, not in Wales.” RST
“The rhymer in the long-tongued room
Who tolls his birthday bell
Toils towards the ambush of his wounds.” DT
All those years ago, I was in a tatty Welsh classroom
Studying Poem On His Birthday by Dylan Thomas
And now here I am in a tatty Norfolk classroom
Teaching Poem On His Birthday by Dylan Thomas
(Same textbook, newer edition). I’ve got nowhere
Very slowly and now the clock on the wall (essentially
The same wall) ticks up thirty nine instead of seventeen
As I fidget and fill in time as artfully as possible -
Subconsciously still waiting for teacher to come.
A big-hearted girl in year 8 has just tidied up
My slagheap of a desk because she “couldn’t stand it anymore”
And Caroline next door has crammed my pigeonhole
With a big red balloon and put HAPPY BIRTHDAY
Over the staffroom noticeboard. When I slip home
For lunch, I’ll get all my cards, a request to record
My not-so-slim-as-it-used-to-be volume onto tape for America
And the annual rejection from a Welsh publisher.
Then I’ll ease on the moccasins Melanie bought me
Which make me feel like a New Man. But I’m not.
I’m an Old Man, a Boy, enjoying his birthday
Up the Mountain, playing truant from everything
With my dog, Tan, running at my heels.
March 29 1995
Notes: Moccasins? That's so last decade darling.
A Good Friday
Blood-orange sun lazing down into the sea,
Full moon ghosting up the other side of the sky.
All down the sun-slackened tarmac to the woods,
Finches fleece hedgerows like there’s no yesterday
And no tomorrow. Round the graveyard walls
Like over-bred mothers, the fields have ploughed
Through yet another winter, lie back in the sun.
Mozart plays somewhere on a holiday radio,
Notes a tossed incense of joy so alive
It is almost beyond living. The sky
Is full of larks and I’m full of Real Ale
And full of myself anyway: it’s my birthday.
At the foot of a wall of crumbing stone -
A Victorian relic of ivy and railings -
D-A-D stands over a grave in flowers.
“Look, love, I chuckle, they’ve left out the E.”
This tickles my daughter as much as me
And we splutter until I am out of breath…
I am about to meditate on mutability
When her miniature copy of my hand
Hoists me homeward, impatient, a daffodil chill
On the air. Her face is a tiny March leaf,
Her "snuggle-riding" featherweight on my back
Fresh as the daisy that hasn't quite sprung,
A summer in bud. I'm the finished version.
I guess they'll be carving my dates clear as Spring
On one of these stones eventually (paying
The sextons double because of the chalk)
But all in good time. Carpe Diem.
Days like these are worth dying for.
Sedgeford, March 29 1991.
Notes: I was 35, then 39 and now I'm 53. The daughter described is now 22. We change, we stay the same. It's brilliantly sunny here. Happy birthday everybody!