Absence by Rob Cullen

Present absent lost.

He was here there
but parts were absent
lost on an Italian beach
amid 90 per cent casualties.

Locked in a camp
with one water faucet
and 7000 thirsty starving men
Waiting for red cross parcels.

He never wore
his campaign medals
or marched
up and down

Saluting cenotaphs
as old soldiers do
at the parades
each year in town.

We lived
with photographs
sealed in a black box
locked under his bed

Photographs taken
of pre-war days
Serpentine deck chairs
of Regents park

Hyde Park
Speakers Corner
On Sundays
And those friends

His memories
all gone
now then
and now he’s gone too

Lost in translation
the silence
of survivors
shame and guilt

And the inability
to talk
to describe
to anyone

Who’s never been
There, out there,
who can understand
without telling.

Without explaining
the emotion
the fear
and the elation.

Then the shame
and we his children
deal with
his silence.
Sudden tempers
avoidance
of conflict and
alone in his garden.

Clinging
to silence
absence
disconnection.

Of being there
but not here
except to share a past
that came before.

He returned
but he was not
the same man
they said.

I knew only
this man
that man
not the one before.

Sometimes it was like
dancing with ghosts,
the unsaid words
the brief glimpses.

And the sound
of a knife scraping
food endlessly
round the plate.

It was always easier
to eat fast and get down
and leave than listen
to that scraping knife.

Some days you became
a grey thin shadow
discernible not solid
but there somehow.

I saw you cry
after the death of your father
but it was your anger
that came back with you.

You came to me
after your mother’s passing
but you shirked the hand
I placed on your shoulder.

Present absent lost.

2 thoughts on “Absence by Rob Cullen

  1. Pingback: Absence by Rob Cullen | Celfypridd

  2. heart breaking and beautifully written. wartime casualties stalked this ghost-man of a father, never fully returned to life after the horrors of war. Fave: We lived/ with photographs/ sealed in a black box/ locked under his bed

    Liked by 1 person

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