‘For a thousand years…are…as a watch
in the night.’ Psalm 90, The Authorized Version.
We are looking for Roary Lion and
Twit Whu Owl, my grand daughter and I –
sitting companionably side by side
on the sofa, she not yet one, me close
to the ‘days of my years’, as the psalmist says –
lifting the flaps on each of the pages
to find the beasts and release the sounds, she
concentrating like a biblical scholar
until, as a devil or an angel,
not unreasonably, boredom arrives.
She turns, climbs up her Grandpa, first tries to
remove his beard tuft by tuft, and then does
the old Milton Berle gag with his glasses
and laughs – and suddenly I remember
my grandpa, at my age now, his only
son recently dead, his two brothers,
Red Army officers, killed in action,
their families massacred at Babi Yar.
One day, with my mother, I netted
three sticklebacks in a pond on the Heath.
She carried them home in a jam jar.
I took it, insisting at four I could
go alone, up the back steps of the flats
to show Grandpa. I dropped it, watched it
shatter on the concrete. He heard my wails,
picked up the frantic fish, found a new vessel.
Twelve months ago you were someone we knew
nothing about but a heartbeat. Now you are
unmistakably, uniquely you –
a voracious wit, a chortling learner.
Nevertheless, it may be some time
before you decipher these signs, even
longer before they have meaning.
So, if you do, when you do, imagine me
holding up to the light, unbroken,
a jar with all your wishes, all your hopes.
Note: the poem was first published by Armadillo Central – http://www.armadillocentral.com/armadillo-central/a-jar-of-sticklebacks-david-selzer