Poem in #73 The Interpreter’s House

Woolworth’s Employee, Reid Street, Belfast, 1965


My father — stockroom-man, Store Fifty-nine —
Knew how Christmas ought to look,
Loading emptied shelves afresh each day
With shiny things; with holly colours;
All that brought the outdoors safely in —
Electric stars, snow in a globe
And plastic icicles. He could afford
Red tape and Blanco whitening.
Voilà! A wintry window, many-paned,
Its left-hand corners blizzarded.
My father wanted us to feel secure.
Here we are, in the flash-photograph
He took through the window from outside; my teethy play-along
Bleached by the bulb-pop, my mother’s hair
Combed long for effect. His family. His idyll.
Some of it was fake. Not all.
At least he tried to make a Christmas for us.
His high-point, a Stewart’s grocery manager
But, pro-trade union and the wrong religion,
Soon purged. A Merchant Navy
Cook before that; formerly a steward, a cabin boy.
A life of feed, fetch, carry.
Coronary. Just short of fifty-nine.