Five Sketches of My Father by Alison Thompson
There are things of yours I still own
but they are becoming fewer.
Your paintings hang on the walls
but one becomes indifferent to the stillness of the dead.
Mostly I just forget.
Recently we reframed one of the oils and I remembered
walking beside you along a dry creek bed,
skidding up and down the bank, collecting sticks
while you pitched your easel, took out your brushes
and stared across the landscape, ready to begin.
Your father’s stories – those balled-up war wounds:
the shrapnel to the chest, the Gallipoli leg, the gassed lungs.
Passed down from him to you, from you to me.
Now they seem like my own memories,
not those of the long dead I never knew.
He wouldn’t let you join up until you were twenty-one;
died before you reached that age.
Funnily enough, when they wouldn’t let you fly
you refused to fight, went back to the farm,
told them to stuff it.
How angry I was in that time
you thought my mother was to die ahead of you,
savaging your old man mutterings
of how you’d go on, how you’d manage without her.
(You didn’t have to in the end.)
Us fighting in that too-small kitchen
with my mother’s reasoned voice frail in the background.
Too alike, she said as we sat down to tea.
I don’t look like you.
I take after the maternal side.
But how familiar was your stocky frame striding towards us
on the beach, the open smiling face of you,
happy (always a relief).
The children shy in your presence.
I knew it was a dream
so waking was no surprise.
On a day visit to Bundanon
I step into Arthur Boyd’s studio, into a humid cocoon
of oils and paint, stacked canvases, rampant colour,
paint-stained rags on the back of the chair
and I am once again ten years old;
running down the path after school,
pausing at the threshold,
trying to catch my breath before knocking.
© Alison Thompson