I love getting presents, especially when they are precisely what I want at that moment in time. But if I could only get one more present for the rest of my life, it would be this: a poem written exclusively for me, by one of the poets I truly love. I would want to meet with the poet first and talk with them about my life so that they could get a sense of the sort of person I am. I would share with them things I would never share with anyone else. They could then go away and write for me, and I imagine that reading the poem would feel like being served my heart on a plate. I would immediately frame it and treasure it forever.
I have written a number of poems for people over the years. I don’t imagine they have been framed, but I hope they have meant something to the people for whom they were written. Here are two examples: a humorous one written for my father in 2000 to commemorate the day he retired from being a Presbyterian Minister (I performed it at his final church service); and one written in 1990 for a university friend who was sexually abused as a child. I read this one now and cringe a bit at the trotting little rhymes and overly simplistic images, but I guess (and hope) it was good enough back then.
It is my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary soon. My gift to them – as long as my muse doesn’t desert me – will be a poem.
Brian – A Tribute
There was a wee baby in Belfast
and as he let out his very first holler
his Mammy looked down and said, “One day, my son,
you’ll be wearing a clerical collar.”
And so from the baby grew a boy, then a man
with his nose always buried in books.
He became quite a preacher, with a wonderful brain,
which made up for what he lacked in looks.
But spiritual matters can become very dry
with the lack of a marital union.
And soon a young lassie from Motherwell
was sharing Brian’s Holy Communion.
Then three little angels were sent down from God,
bringing joy, and the odd dirty nappy.
I hear that the youngest was fairest by far,
but all three made their folks very happy.
Alas, it was time to leave Ireland
for shores wild and far, far away.
And so young Reverend Bell and his clan
touched down in New Zealand one day.
Their first years were in Katikati,
and then on to St Andrews in Stoke.
For 16 happy years Brian made this his home,
Drawing thousands whenever he spoke.
So Dad, today we farewell you
as you enter the dusk of your life.
you’ll have time to reflect, or just laze around,
or get on the nerves of your wife.
We’ll miss your long-winded sermons,
your humour, your charisma, your flair,
For you’re proof that to be a great preacher
one does not need a full head of hair.
So here’s to you Brian at this, your last service,
and I’m sure that the whole congregation
will join me in saying thank you and God Bless,
and above all – Congratulations.
When she was very young
he would come into her bed,
and touch her in that special place.
Don’t be afraid, he said.
I wouldn’t dream of hurting you; I only want to touch.
And she believed him when he said he wasn’t asking much.
Many nights he came to her and asked for more and more,
and turned into an adult’s a body young and scared and sore.
Games she’d never played before
and words she’d never said;
her teacher taught her quickly
that these things were just for bed.
And so she never said a word, and no-one ever knew
But she wondered if the other children had their secrets, too.
And as time passed,
a woman left behind the little child, but carried still the memories:
of his face, both hard and mild,
of darkness and confusion, of not knowing good from bad,
And the innocence of childhood,
and the one she never had.