My Grandfather’s Hat
Most of the time I saw Granddad indoors,
first in his dark room with gas mantels
and a kitchen range and one tall window
in Poplar, then in the overheated room
of aunt Nell and Uncle George’s new house
in Morden when he was in his nineties.
But he came to stay with us sometimes,
and it must have been when he was leaving
that I saw him wearing his trilby hat.
Nothing in our family’s possession
struck me as so stylish and beautiful.
It was grey and sleek like a new plush toy.
And no one ever made our two front steps
more like a staircase in a stately home, not
even my mother with her polio feet.
Crowning himself slowly, his own archbishop,
and holding a handrail like a sceptre
he did a slow turn like one of the ships
he sailed in round Cape Horn as a boy
in another century and approached each step
like a descent to be addressed with ropes.
Slowly he lowered one foot, then the other,
while we watched him, silently exclaiming
vivat, and the black and white chess-board
of the path to the front gate stretched out
like a long drive lined with waving flags.
For a video clip of this poem being read, see: