How we crossed the tidal river

It was our dogs who met, straight down to sniffing at both ends
Before cavorting on the beach. A relief as your Alsation mix
Frightened dogs or was it owners?
So we joined that morning: ‘Let’s walk to Holkham’, I invited
‘But I’ve not eaten, I have no money.’ You protested, but you came.

When we met the tidal river, unexpectedly,
You waded in, confidently, as I hesitated on the bank.
Then followed your trusting assurance ‘we can do it’.
Knicker height, both dogs swimming.

It was a modest rubicon. We might have been marooned
On marram grass, or just walked back.

Safe on dry sand while we undressed our sodden clothes
Thinking that we were alone, a twitcher came from nowhere
And dallied, while your nickers off, asking
‘Have you seen the geese that come this time of year?’

It was over coffee at the Victoria
(‘No we have no breakfast or tumble dryer’)
You gave your story. Of how your father died that day.
A goat herd from southern Italy, his certain life was interrupted
By a war. Transported to a leather works in Sheffield

He remained inside his italian world
Never learning English words. He did not hear
A radio or television, nor read a newspaper or book
Just his Italian world: children, fellow refugees and wife.
Along with the gift of story telling, his love on English soil
Was his allotment.

He’d planted out the seed potatoes
For a time he knew he would not see
Made good the patch of earth, tidied up the shed
His piece of ground and mind in order
He used an English Oak beside a railway track
As a scaffold to end his life.

You knew exactly where it was, when you arrived
His body gone, you felt his spirit linger still.
His wife, your mother, wailed beside it in distress
And you: ‘I told them he could never read or write
Why did they keep on asking for a note?’
You ask impatiently, still 15 years on.

So you bought some goats. Bought up your children
You look like him, but spoke both tongues
Of land and mother/father. The vestment of that voice
Is a lilting Yorkshire, your skin a waxy olive

Husband, lover, three children, all have flown
When we met at Wells next the sea
A dance of strangers at the end of a season
Like our dogs, we got straight down, and told it how it was
Then left to go our separate ways.

September 2010
Edited Mendham with Lynn 2012

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