My father was born in the workhouse,
in a cottage his parents rented
from the trustees.

Grandfather was a war-hero
with gas-scarred lungs and muscles
lumpy with shrapnel.

"Feel them," he'd order
stretching his mutilated arm.
I touched reluctantly.

My grandmother curtained
her mind as well as her windows
with white net

in more respectable houses
plotted in military rows.
He went on asking;

took me to playgrounds urging me
to swing high for the wind
to bell my skirts out wide

for his shamed eyes.
My parents asked me why
I hated him.

And when he died he left
my son his medals and an MBE
for `service to community'.

We found a tattered notebook
brown, HMSO, with cryptic sentences
"Arnheim. Today more shelling. Rain."

Press cuttings, photographs,
the relics of a stolen childhood -
easier now to understand.

But still I feel the clamp of his arm
when I see a girl on a swing
and an old man watching.

© Kathleen Jones 1992