A Quarterly Journal of Contemporary English Language Haibun
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December 2005, vol 1 no 3

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Ken Jones



First light
the riddling of clinker
in an iron grate

There is nothing so dead, so ugly, so misshapen as clinker. Dad would shovel it into the battered zinc bucket and I’d lug the stuff into the yard. Out there, the acrid smell of coal fires on the damp air. “Swan Vestas—The Smoker’s Match” and the fire lit. I’d make it roar into life by holding up a newspaper against the fireplace surround, daring it to catch light.

Liverpool Echo
that never return

The fire blazing in its grate would bring the shadowy kitchen to life, all Brasso and black-leading.  The rest of the house cold and silent. Only rarely was the fire lit in the front parlour.  The kitchen tall and narrow, I was so little. In the space above our lace curtains the shining slates of the terrace opposite. And at the top of the window four smoking stacks against the gun metal sky of a northern city.

When the kettle sang Dad would go upstairs with mother’s tea. She always gave him a hard time. I suppose this was the only way she could get through her life.

Next the porringer would come to life. Quick Quaker Oats. The lumpy surface would pucker and pop its puffs of steam through little craters.  I’d give it a swirl with the big wooden spoon. Thicker and smoother now.

Dad and I ate it together on the green oil cloth of the kitchen table. Sips of strong, sweet industrial tea. This was my time with him. A quiet, inward man, but always kindly. Wounded in the Great War, which had killed all his brothers. I badly wanted him to be my very special friend and tell me all about Life. But I didn’t know what to ask him. And he didn’t want to say. I pressed him hard on the Great War, but never got back more than a few tantalizing fragments. “No, don’t call them ‘the bad men’, son. They were just the enemy.”

Then he would kiss mother and leave for the Office—which remained for me no less mysterious than the Great War.

Alone with Dad
in his collarless shirt
the gilt stud


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