To have a child, as you know well, is to have
someone always with you – their shadow,
their echo, their breathing – whatever
has happened, whatever may happen.
To have a daughter is to shape the future.
When we lived in a Victorian third floor
attic flat, that had been the nursery
and the children’s bedrooms, and the trees,
planted when the house was built, touched the panes,
and you were only a few weeks old
fifty years ago now, I began
a poem with this title — inspired
by Yeat’s poem ‘A Prayer For My Daughter:
‘Once more the wind is howling, and half hid
Under this cradle-hood and coverlid
My child sleeps on’ – when the Black & Tan War
raged, rampaged: houses shelled and burned.
A first time father in his fifties,
he wished his daughter a modest beauty,
a becoming wit, and a good marriage!
It was a gentle, English May, and Wilson
was keeping us out of Vietnam.
I was a young man proud and fearful
of fatherhood – unmastered in either
the grandeur or simplicity of words.
All I could think to wish for you was health.
The poem stalled, was left unfinished, lost.
A few days old, your daughter lay in her crib,
in another Victorian house.
Outside the snow continued to fall
in that provincial city, slowing traffic,
drifting in gardens. Across an ocean
one of the worst earthquakes on record
razed the flimsy houses of the poor.
As you entered the room talking – wittily,
kindly, hopefully – she turned her nascent head
in your direction, hearing that sound
she had heard forever.