Tuesday, April 14, 2009

After the Fall


After the bath with ragged towels
my Dad
would dry us very carefully;
six little wriggly girls,
each with foamy pigtails,
two rainy legs,
the invisible back we couldn’t reach,
a small wet heart and toes, ten each.

He dried us all
the way he gave the parish
Morning Prayer:
as if it was important,
as if God was fair,
as if it was really simple
if you would just be still
and bare.

Rachel McAlpine

Poets often prospect their own childhood - young Wordsworth rowing across the lake, Dylan Thomas free and lyrical under the apple boughs, Robin Hyde watching two lovers from the periwinkled sand dunes, Baxter talking about a bay that never existed, all seek again that cherished experience of awe, freshness, magic, joy, security, simplicity, and apparent clarity. Time winnows out the tears and tantrums. McAlpine’s poem is a glittering presentation of that childhood sense of innocence. The picture of her vicar father earnestly and tenderly drying down his young daughters after their bath is so convincing it has long lingered in my memory banks. I can feel the girls shivering in the Canterbury chill. Poems, like photographs, about children can easily slip into being just cute, McAlpine’s sparse lines avoid this. The location of the word ‘invisible’ is marvelous, the magical vastness of the world at that stage of life while ‘ragged’ to describe the towels hints at the penury of vicarage life.

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