10 September, 2006

Festschrift

For the patriarch, père Roth, on the occasion of his 66th birthday.

1.

It marks the good part of a man's life
being as old as you
and feeling neither those Arms nor the knife
at your back, as bold as you
staring down a man, any, even for looking
and that includes me, and Him too,
just wherevering all with that calm of yours, brooking
no quibble or at least making it all seem like foolishness to you.

2.

You will not retire.

But you will tire old man
you will go deaf
and then go blind,
with all the poets.

O you will grow tired, old man.
You will grow to count, each year, and then ineff-
ably each month, with the slowing, of your mind.
Each day will come to be—you'll come to know its
shape—each day will come to be a man
bigger than yourself,
to stand over you
and make you fright.

3.

— I know you never drink.

— I'll drink, son!

— But you don't drink.

— Damn it, I shall drink if it kills me!

Pause.

— Drink, then.

Later.

— Do you know why I never dshrink? Sic! Not for the family, no. But because it spoils the, the slash of the mind. It ills the kintellect. Sic! Shtrue. I love the wine, you know, the noshe of it, so in a gesture of shubriety I indulge. . . not. I've learnt to shteel myself against all things. Plato wrote that, dinn'e? Unlike 'Arry Stottle, who was surly a daft sot for the bottle!

— Plato?

— Nah, petal, I'm joking. That'sh an old one. I don't trust all those spotty herberts with their nonsense philosophistry. Sic! I'm a plain blunt man. Blunt as shteel. Here, lision. D'ye know what my name means? There's more in my name alone than in all your whorl-eyed web or interlect page or what have you. It's German. I'll show you, on paper. Have a shufti. Here, ragin. It means a vice, sic! Advice. And here, mund. It means protector. . . God, thish drink is a bit of a norse isn't it? I mush go and take a blog, I'll be back—sic!

4.

I was taught never to be wrong, never.
There's so much damn rightness in you,
so much of the small smile and the clever
no that others find in me.

5.

The hours with pages and sky on a box
(disports of Britain made ritual with ritual knocks
for your pleasure) will dwindle. From a box in the sky
you'll watch the ages and measures of Britain die.
Talk with the dead, irony of the unbeliever, be locked
at words with Smith and Marx, or at badminton with Mars;
see your parents; look down and see your children, and see ours.

Drift not off into fancy, o father loved and mocked.

Like this: you will be tired and mired in all the fusses of the day.
It will be the case that there is increasingly little for you to say.
You come to count, in your head, while others speak.
Pauses between phrases are great; your voice is weak.
That thing in your skull remains inarticulate, unsaid.
You take it as token, totem that you are not quite dead.
You come to count, each syllable, tending towards, each gasp.
With the showing of your mind, my word with your last words you grasp.

Against the reasonable among men, secure me, father.

3 comments:

Simon Holloway said...

This is quite a beautiful poem. Would I be correct in suggesting that Joyce, Eliot and Thomas were three big influences? I seem to be able to sense elements of all three here in various places.

Conrad H. Roth said...

Thanks, Simon. I can always take a bit of advice on punning from Joyce's prose; his poetry is awful, though. Eliot lost it after the wasteland, though I suppose invocations in poetry will always conjure his late material. As for Thomas, well, like every other sane person on the planet I loved Under Milk Wood, and the notion of voices speaking in the dark is constantly in my head--but otherwise I'm not a great fan.

Anonymous said...

Is there love here?