Winners 2010

Jamie Sutherland (Commended)

Winchester College, Hampshire

Dear Dad


He used to cut my nails with silver nail clippers, holding my hand
much softer than she ever did.  Clasping the clippers tighter than
he needed to and staring at the slivers caught in a current of hard
Hants water, he asked ‘friend or father?’ which seemed a bit much
to ask in a cold uncle’s bathroom.  I thought he wanted friend,
but apparently father was the answer.  We talked in the bathroom
but not at any tables.  When we shared hotel rooms, when my sister
slept down the corridor and he snored all night, I’d turn over
all the things he’d said in the bathroom, when I’d sit on the toilet lid
brushing my teeth, and he’d stand in the shower drying himself after
he’d already turned it off, because it’s warmer behind the steamy glass.
He promised one day he’d teach me how to smoke a cigar, after
I’d watched all evening how he sucked in the smoke and drawled
through a grown-up cloud.  He laughed when I pretended with my
toothbrush, and I tried to suck in the steam that came off his blushing
arms cooling in the white bathroom.  We were naked then, fleshy and pink.


They’d cut his nails, but apparently they still grow for a few days after.
I expected him to look different, shrivelled and small like that sculpture
on the floor.  Dead Dad, it was called, and he said I should always go and
see the body.  ‘It makes you realise’, he told me, ‘that nothing is big enough
to hold you back.’  I wasn’t expecting his quiet voice in a gallery; there was
the smell of wet wool and girls laughing at the naked sculpture’s trunk.
My Dad looked too big to be dead.  His arms still held the memory
of muscle, of a rugby player who decided he wasn’t good enough but
secretly always thought he was.  His tie was tied like a schoolboy’s, not
like the full Windsor that he always did.  He’d promised to teach me,
but I’d taught myself the half knot and thought that was good enough.
She cried at the funeral, but I’d already cried too much by his side,
Mr Stetson’s last cold handshake tying Dad’s body off from the memories,
this knot so tight I didn’t cry for months afterwards.  Eventually she
decided that you wouldn’t want to be buried, lying in the graveyards you
always peered at with morbid curiosity.  You were just as curious about the
antineoplastics and the risk of myelotoxicity, laughing while I grinned
a pale smile.  You asked me to read you everything you should have read,
and sat with calm contemplation as I found death and death and death in
books I’d read too many times before.  I read in advance, steeling myself
for sadness.  After I saw you in an urn, Dad, I had to read everything again.
Only Eliot meant anything to me: ‘I will show you fear in a handful of dust.’

Project Details

  • Date February 8, 2015
  • Tags 2010 Promises - Winning Poems