Steve Whitaker, Literary Correspondent
Poem Of The Week: ‘The Shadow Of Us’ By Rowan Righelato
Rowan Righelato’s gentle paternal lyricism is a profound antidote to Philip Larkin’s sardonic take on ‘fucked up’ parental legacy in his much-quoted poem, ‘This Be the Verse’. Hoping, against hope, that the son will avoid the worst toxins of nature and nurture, the father/narrator opens a figurative door onto possibility as he blinks into daylight on leaving the theatre.
The Shadow of Us
Are you going to die? my son asks,
happily. I push open the heavy door
between the darkness of the theatre
and the soft sunlight outside.
Yes, I say, someday,
when my beard is long and white
like Gandalf! and I scoop him up
and scratch my grizzly chin against his neck.
I want to hear him laugh –
to keep at bay,
for just a little longer,
the knowledge of death in him,
to keep him free
from the tangled branches
of our blackened family tree,
to hide from him the hollow place
where the echo of suicide whispers.
I can only hope
when it’s his time to ripen and fall,
he will be borne
on some sweet gust of luck
and land softly, in sunlight,
far from the shadow of us.
The warm, seemingly inviolate, filial bond which is registered in the relatively even metrical arrangement of the first stanza, is reversed in the second as the narrator establishes a darker tone in the shape of an extended arboreal metaphor.
Straining against the irresistible force of growth, the tree’s tortuous branches and the autumning descent of gathering experience, introduce a species of inevitability to the poem’s narrative: the ‘blackened family tree’ stands athwart the window, casting shadows of incarceration, as Tennyson intended for Mariana. We are obliged, along with the father, to trust that the son can slip the chains of troubled inheritance, the sotto voce
‘suicide whispers’ of heredity.
Righelato’s final, rather beautiful, lines return us to the soft sunlight, and to a harmony yielded, if not by prognosis, then by good fortune.