Sestina

There in the kitchen, my father,

His mouth overfilling with pills,

Says to me “Paulie, I’m sorry.

I’m sorry, I know what I’ve done.”

And I say “Now you’ve ruined Christmas”

And turn from the shame of his tears.

 

Though my back shields me from those tears,

And the chasm between me and father,

I still feel them keenly each Christmas

When I pray for the comfort of pills.

Like the ghosts of things Scroogely done

As time turns, so does who’s sorry.

 

Neck in the yoke of this sorrow,

A debt not payable in tears,

I fear suffering beyond what’s been done

By becoming to my son that father.

Rather, retch up a mouthful of pills

Than have his ghost haunt my son’s Christmas.

 

Yet it feels like Eastenders each Christmas,

A time not for joy, but for sorrow,

For swallowing sleepwalking pills

And watering deep-planted tears

That grow sons from the seeds of grandfathers

Until the festive period’s done.

 

And then, when it’s finally done

We recover and build to next Christmas,

Pray for forgiveness from fathers,

Anaesthetise hidden sorrows,

In darkened cinemas, steal tears

And sedate ourselves with pills.

 

Doctors answer our pleas with those pills

And “What’s done cannot be undone”.

Still, those chemotherapeutic tears

Scrape-hollow us more every Christmas

Till we’re soul-skinned and bony and sorry,

Worm-burrowed like cancerous father.

 

Strung out on tears, he necked a noose with his pills;

“Well, hangman,” said father, “my time here is done”

And he swung there at Christmas, and left us here, sorry.

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