My Grandad

 

grandad for sally's blog

My grandfather died seventy years ago this week. Obviously i never knew him and have only one small black and white photograph of him on my study wall. He’s standing in the backyard of the terraced house they lived in in Oldham. Lancashire. This is a poem I wrote about him a long time ago. My mother said he was gassed in WW1 and never recovered. 

My Grandad

I look at the photograph.

He smiles,and silently

he tells me

his story…

 

In my backyard I stand,

Hands wrapped around a mug of tea.

Shirt sleeves, rolled back,

Reveal tattoos – slack muscles.

 

I grin.

All teeth.

Who cares that they’re more black

Than white.

Underneath

That’s my life;

That’s the grin I learned

When burned

By poison

Spreading

Like wild garlic.

That’s the grin I wear

When I look

But don’t see

The dark oil glistening,

Blistering, inside me.

When I hear, but don’t listen

To my lungs closing.

 

I posture,

Braces fastened for the photo,

Chest puffed out.

Nothing touches me –

Now.

Later I cough my guts up –

Chuck up.

 

I trod on corpses: dead horses,

Blown up in a field

Where grass had yielded

To strong yellow nashers.

And in the pastures

I shat myself.

But smelled no worse

Than my mate, Henry, next to me

Whose head grinned down from the parapet –

 

 Ten yards away.

 

He has perfect, white teeth.

Much good they’ve done him,

Except for that last night at home

When the girl smiled back.

 © Judith Barrow

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37 thoughts on “My Grandad

  1. That’s a terrific poem, Judith! I only know my grandparents from the odd photo, too; I’ve only seen one of my paternal grandad, who died in 1931. I don’t even know what of. TB, I think. He was a Buckingham Palace guard, the one photo I’ve seen is him in his unform.

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    • Thanks Terry.I always wish I knew more about him. I don’t remember my paternal grandparents either. All I do know is that that side of the family came from Southern Ireland at the time of the potato famine.

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  2. I have great memories of my maternal grandad – especially how he use to hoik me on his shoulders and walk us for miles along the banks of the river Croal in Bolton. Happy times! Love the poem – very savage but compelling.

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      • To ‘chuck something up on’t shoulder’ or, probably, any other form of snatch and raise action, I shouldn’t wonder! I’m not sure if it was specifically old Lancashire, but it was certainly used a lot, back then…

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  3. I absolutely LOVED this poem, Judith! Through the honesty of your words, I was able to ‘feel’ the presence of the man! Such a beautiful piece x

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  4. Pingback: My Grandad | Lynette Rees

  5. My maternal grandfather was in the Somme and also was gassed. He managed to live a few decades more, if you call that living. He had to take a lot of pills and such and could not go anywhere without an oxygen tank which was not so portable in those days. My other grandfather picked up TB while in the war and died a few years later and like you, all I have of him is a photo. Léa

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    • Hi Lea, Thank you so much. My granddad was gassed and suffered such a lot, my mother said. He ws seventeen when he went to the Somme as a Lancashire Pals. He died in the fities. I so appreciate your re blog.Jx

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      • Hi Judith, my grandfather was young when he was there but I’m not sure how young. He was in the 72 Seaforth Highlanders and I have a very old photo of him and one of his brothers in their kilts. Grandpa had the gas exposure and lived up to his sixtieth birthday but I wouldn’t call it living. When he was still able to play, he played the pipes. Thank you for sharing a wonderful post. lf

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  6. Pingback: My Grandad | Defining Ways

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