in memory of my grandfather
(after Schubert’s piano sonata in C minor D958)
Hammer-blows ring on a hull in dry-dock
then dazzling sparks from your torch cascade in notes
you’ll ask her to play when you get home. Swaying
fifty feet up in your caulker’s cradle, your life
is about to take a dive, the yard to close.
Schubert’s your consolation, and this sonata
your gifted, wilful daughter already plays
by heart. ‘Play us some Schubert, maid!’ you’ll say,
laughing, hurt at the way she wrinkles her nose
at your coat’s hot-metal smell, evades your kiss.
Music of piercing sweetness then sudden shadow –
that telltale shift from major to minor – the same
landscape but dark now as you take to the road
with the Williams Syncopated Jazz Orchestra:
out of the golden bell of your saxophone
those homesick blues flow with the money home.
Quiet footsteps are keeping time, as I follow
the fugue of your life, its modest adagio
mending their shoes, fretting for Vi a glove-
box: your caulker’s hands could improvise
bravuras of cactus flowers, cut the thinnest
slices of bread, and tease us with card-tricks –
a trio of jacks lurk in the pack who – listen! –
are scarpering up to the roof, allegro,
where a dark figure waits to silence us all.
About this poem
This poem was the runner-up in the 2013 BBC Proms Poetry competition.