My father leads me through the geometry
of ploughed fields gone hard after a fortnight
of heat. There’s straw scattered like cut hair,
turned-up bedrock like broken masonry.
My eyes are on the ground, the crumbling
clods under our feet. But then his hand
stops me like a turnstile bar. ‘Look, a lark.’
A tiny speck half jump jet, half eddying leaf
rises a hundred, now two hundred feet
above our heads. ‘We must be near its young,’
he says. ‘It’s trying to draw us off.’ And then,
the singing starts as he leads me away.
A wet road racing at you
smooth at first
now potholed by reflected clouds;
the field-grey of a farmhouse
behind a low hill;
the headland creeping out
into the bay
viscous as spilled paint;
time-lapsed clouds drawn back
into a yawning sun
like a clean duvet.
Each of these
in any order
is good enough
before the final seconds
of a bare hillcrest
star-struck as the sun goes down.
Among his egrets’ wings, loved souls thumping
into air thickened by tropic sunlight,
enter Van Gogh, ploughmen, low dykes
engraved with a sharp northern misery.
My pencil lifts from underneath the line.
For me, the mark is not the old songs
belted out, beer cans left on doilies
or flurries of laughter like a sudden flare.
Instead it’s a car’s thrum fading past
the window, seagulls circling the wind
and the front room’s quiet countdown
like a lead horizon under a tall, blank sky.
The first time it was my whole body wrapped
in a cotton blanket in the crook of his arm,
his eyes on mine, mum’s eyes on his.
Then, later, it was his bony long-limbed strength
under my armpits: raising me above his head,
making rocket noises, until I could touch
the hard, white sugar-icing of the ceiling.
And then, later still – his jaw off-kilter, eyes
bright, all of us around his bed – it was
his dry, callus-covered fingers gripping mine
as hard as he could, then lifting them to eye-level
as he communicated what he couldn’t say.
William Thompson is a PhD candidate in Creative Writing at the University of Bristol. Born in Cambridgeshire in 1991, his work has appeared or is forthcoming in Wild Court, The Honest Ulsterman, One Hand Clapping, Raceme, Lighthouse, Ink Sweat & Tears and The Best New British and Irish Poets 2019-21 (Eyewear).