The day he tells me they’ve cut away his testicles to treat his cancer,
my father is an old man at the end of the line. Miles away, I am a father,
too, but my eyes are my little boy eyes as my father lowers the mystery
of his scrotum into the bath with me, and the hot water rising counts my
ribs with its small hands: this is how a man’s body takes up the world in
the piling of water against white stone. This is the body he has taught to me –
and saved: the pillar of his torso, arms and legs that sprung
the rhythm of his victories on the track, crushing hands that played
good cards and bad cards always the same. And his voice, it hoisted
any poem up off the page. He is more island now than ever in
his soldier days when he learned to praise the flesh that took a wound
and lived, when he built bridges out of the range of enemy fire
and dropped them through the long stride of a triangle onto the other shore.
There he understood, as he has always understood, the shortest distance
between mind and world is measured out in metal. But my father is laughing
on the phone because the English learned to laugh in the company of
the dying and the dead. And he will live, we know it, because
he has put his fighting laughter on. He has let them open the folded
purse where the tiny machines that made half my body lay whirling
in the dark, and he quotes the Scrooge who found his grave
at the foot of his bed in the film my father and I have watched
every Christmas Eve I remember – This, he is saying, is not the man I was.

<This is the opening poem for my book Worthy of His Fall (2005), the book I wrote while my dad was about midway through the illnesses that would eventually kill him. In true British soldier fashion, with British-soldiery humour, Dad and I started a list of all the things in his life that had tried to kill him, from this bout of prostate cancer back to the Imperial Japanese Army, to cigarettes, his own heart (twice), his own stomach (twice), to, well, you get the picture. This poem still rings true to me. I wrote it in 2002. RH>

© Richard Harrison, 2015