Dad plays piano,
Ripples dancing across the surface of his G&T
In time with his flying fingers.
Notes swirl in the air like wind-blown autumn leaves,
Falling on deaf ears…
We’d rather watch A Christmas Carol on the tiny black and white TV
Or play with the toys we haven’t broken yet
That we found gift-wrapped at the foot of our beds
In that magic hour between five and six
That belongs to children alone on Christmas morning.

Smoke spirals from the ashes of his thin cigar,
Resting in the ashtray on the upright’s polished lid,

Stirred by the breeze from the open kitchen door
Where mum labours over turkey and trimmings.
It curls through clouds of paper-chains and bright balloons,

A Will o’ the Wisp dancing towards heaven,
Staining the white sky of polystyrene tiles
With his presence.

He left that summer, his departure unforeseen.
I woke to the sound of my mother’s pain

And crept downstairs to find her weeping in the kitchen,
Tears staining the single sheet of paper she clutched in her hand
While my sister hugged her close and stroked her hair,
Whispering words of comfort.

Two decades pass:
Uncertain glances on an evening train;
‘Excuse me, but are you my father?’
‘I think I might be,’ he says,
And we smile as he steps to the platform below,
Puffing on his inhaler.
We’re still smiling when the train pulls away.
He looks smaller than I remembered.

Ten more years:
My own sleeping child stirs in my arms

As a ringing telephone cuts the morning silence.
Later, in a garden peopled with strangers,
I hold my weeping sister close and stroke her hair,
Whispering words of comfort.
We stand aside as the strangers melt away,
Our eyes lifted to heaven,
Tracing the trail of spiralling smoke
That stains the sky with his presence.


6 thoughts on “Smoke.”

  1. Really powerful. So much I like about it from the recognition of that special Christmas morning period for children to the strong feelings and the way so many years and events are caught in a short poem.

    1. Thank you 🙂 I had several false starts with this one. Still not sure which of the edits I like best, but this one got posted by default as it made it into a local poetry anthology!

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