Tuesday, 15 May 2012

When we sat on the hills that looked over my house...

Today is two years since my grandpa passed away. He was rather wonderful *points to the photograph above*. He liked music [all kinds], especially jazz. Whenever I walked into his house he handed me a glass of sparkling tonic. He said 'It must be jelly 'cause jam don't shake like that.' He played the piano. He traveled the world.  He played golf, and he loved cricket. He smoked a pipe, and had an inflatable toy parrot which he perched on his shoulder after he'd had a knee replacement.

When he was older, he got Parkinson's. Parkinson's tries to steal people away from themselves. It's a nasty fight, and if you know someone who has it, then you might want to consider donating your brain to Parkinson's UK

Anyway, Parkinson's was not my grandpa. My grandpa was 'Poppa' and he was excellent. A year ago, a poem of mine 'Ullambana' [The Hungry Ghost Festival] was published in The Interpreter's House. It's about him, and home. I thought I'd share it today. x



[the hungry ghost festival]

for Poppa

When we sat on the hills that looked over my house
we saw Chinese lanterns we had not set free. They had
no name on their sides, just orange. They were a peaceful army.
These lanterns hold the name of a copper for the way they carry
themselves. Two metals hinged at the sides - a hip joint.
Like the Japanese flower physalis alkekengi hangs upside down
and patiently waits there.

Your hands used to move like rice paper.
'It must be jelly 'cause jam don't shake like that.'
You went to China and brought me dolls dressed up as air 
I have Yashica photos of you building nuclear plants, a pipe half  
                                                                               in your mouth
and Wellington boots that covered the base of your suit.

For you, I signed a form to place my brain in a jar when I'm
done with it. They will lift it from my skull and see you.

If we were home now, I'd be looking out my bedroom window.
When I was three an owl hit the glass there and you can still
trace the outline of its feathers. I did not see it fall.
The lantern was postbox red then. It was a letter. At school we did 
                                                                                   an assembly
about the little match girl, and the next year I played a gangster.
You didn't mind which I was as long as there was music.

Over dinner my sister said to me 'When did dragons become 
and somewhere you were laughing. The lamp rose as a dragon 
If I were in London I would not see this
but would light a candle. It's been a year, almost,
as the crow flies. This year it is the year of the rabbit.
I go and sit myself at the piano. Play Honky Tonk parade.


This poem was first published in May 2011 in The Interpreter's House [issue 47].

My first poetry collection, named after this poem: 'The Hungry Ghost Festival,' is published by The Rialto.


  1. I love you a ridculous amount. I also love your Poppa even though I never met him; what a wonderful man. xxx

  2. Wonderful poem, and he sounds like an amazing man.

    This has struck a chord with me because I am watching my grandfather deteriorate with Parkinson's. I am trying to do what I can to help (going round to assist them with things, fundraising for the Cure Parkinson's Trust) but I never feel like anything will do any good.

    The great man that he was (Oxford Scholar, Private School headmaster, learned English from J.R.R Tolkien) is pretty much gone but like you say, Parkinson's is not who he is. He is who he was.

  3. James - sounds like you're doing an awful lot. Being there is doing all good things, I'm absolutely sure of it. Learning English from Tolkien? Blimey. Sounds amazing. And he's not gone; he's still there. Parkinson's makes people battle with themselves; it's like their brain is swimming and every so often they find things to hold on to. I'm sure you are one of those things. xx

  4. I love this, Jen. My great uncle whom I love immense amounts has Parkinson's and it is the most horrible thing in the world. :( He loves music too, there were instruments all over their old house when we went to stay 2 years ago. <3