postmen, like doctors

Jun 4, 2020 poetry appreciation

Larkin’s magnificent, monumental poem ‘Aubade‘ speaks with a terrible, alchemical beauty about death and the fear of death. It closes with the line ‘Postmen like doctors go from house to house’ which, in context, says something very Larkin-y and shiversome about death’s inevitability; we’ll all get those visits from doctors, sooner or later. Would Larkin be horrified, though, if he knew how that line popped into my head with a totally different feel to it, about half an hour ago, when the postman delivered two unexpected letters and, with them, great joy?

One of those letters was from my goddaughter, who I’m lucky enough to see fairly regularly (under normal circumstances). As well as her letter she included an illustrated version of a poem I wrote a few years ago. The poem, ‘godparent’, belongs in what I call (with a somewhat abashed glance at Donne) my ‘holy sonnets’ sequence, which will itself be part of the full-length collection I’m currently working on. Here it is:

godparent*

Friday night kitchen supper. Wedges, flan, broccoli.
Recycling, gloves, cds, a hairbrush. Stacked pots teeter;
papers, pile on pile, shoved to the table-end. It could be neater.
Glasses of milk. Cake or fruit for pudding. ‘Please eat properly.’
The day’s stories: maths, lacrosse, chemistry, a “free”,
art. ‘We’re out of semi-skimmed.’ ‘The meeting went ok,
thanks.’ Then, the dishwasher fed, a game. We play
till past bedtime. Tired, safe, at ease, we get silly.
For the family, nothing remarkable perhaps. For me, a once
in every-so-often go at belonging:
not looking in, nose pressed against the window, longing,
but my place set at the table; not feeling like a dunce
at life, but part of it. I flood with gratitude
for toast-crumbs, chaos, kids. All the everyday beatitudes.

The poem had been written out carefully, and illustrated with swiftly-sketchy, hand-painted pictures which woke some further memories of the night I’d been writing about. The experience of receiving this lovely envelope-ful was beautiful, and put me in mind of that wonderful line from Don Paterson’s ‘Waking with Russell‘:** ‘See how the true gift never leaves the giver:/ returned and redelivered, it rolled on like a river’.

So I want to remember that doctors don’t always come with the bad news: for a lot of life, they come to make things better. Similarly postmen don’t always bring tax returns, letters from the council, the test results we don’t want to hear about… Sometimes they bring precious tonics, unexpected gifts. How wonderful is that?




*'[G]odparent’ was first published in Allegro, 2019.

(**For some reason the Scottish Poetry Library URL has this poem as ‘Walking with Russell’ (a spellcheck situation, perhaps?). Ignore that. It’s definitely ‘Waking’.)

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