David Conrad Foggin (1971 – 1992)
‘ Uz can be loving, as well as funny‘ wrote Tony Harrison, in one of those poems that seemed to speak to, and for, me, and so many Grammar School boys of my generation. We say ‘uz’. And we say ‘our’, too. Our kid, our lass. And our David. I was urged to buy and read Carrie Etter’s ‘Imagined sons‘, and I am still haunted her visions of what may have become of her son. Two of my five children were adopted, and our David was one of them. Against all the rules, we met his birth mother, who would have been no more than eighteen. She wanted a say in who would adopt him, and a wise social worker thought she had that right. That young girl trusted him to to a couple not that much older than her. She will be sixty, now. Carrie Etter’s prose poems have made me think long and hard about her, and how she must have dreamed so many possible futures for him
David died in a fall from the top floor of a high-rise block of flats, only a few weeks after his twenty-first birthday. June 29th. It’s his birthday today. When he was nine or ten years old, he drew endlessly; meticulous battle scenes, some times on rolls of lining paper, so they stretched out like eclectic Bayeaux tapestries. I wrote a poem about them, years ago, and keep revisiting it, and rewriting it. Here it is.
Our David’s Pictures
In tracing the anatomy of war
our david’s concentration’s absolute.
He kneels in peace, head bowed. An acolyte.
His pictures conjure tiny armies on the floor.
All history’s invited to this fight:
Martello tower, pele, and launching pad,
heaps of Roman, Norman, Saxon, Panzer dead.
Drawn up, his minute cohorts. Black and white.
Each man’s accoutred – breastplate, chainmail, greaves.
Crusaders squint down Gatling sights,
or brandish spears with blades as big as axes,
and quivers jammed with arrows, bunched in sheaves.
Every shield’s a wicked chevron
or a bossed and studded disc;
the sky is bristling with a stiff cheval de frise
of arrows and everyman’s vulnerable, at risk.
There’s Agincourts of arrows, flight on flight.
The sky’s cross-hatched, and somedays almost black.
The sun’s crossed out. Eclipsed. Our David’s arrows –
they fly miles, out of day and into night,
they shift the whole perspective. What is it
he celebrates? Pattern? Power?
The living or the dead. I’ll never know,
his last bow drawn, and loosed, an age ago.
At the same time as ‘Imagined sons’ started its work on me, I was re-reading a lot of retellings of myth, and two in particular would not (and will not) leave me alone. The stories of Daedalus and Icarus, and of Hephaestus, the lame god hurled from Olympus by his mother. They are both stories of terrible falls from the skies. This second poem felt to me like a prayer for atonement. Whatever it is, it’s for our David, on his birthday.
pinioned in a parchment sky,
his mind a kitestring ravel,
he stares at distressing
white comet-tails of feathers,
down at his dwindling son.
He knows so much.
The structure of a bird’s wing.
The melting point of wax.
He can navigate
the fibonacci spirals of a conch
with thread, an ant, and honey.
He understands everything
about the body’s hinges, levers,
fulcrums; the way it works.
he has traced the ridges
of a human brain, the whorls
of fingertips, and dreamed
He can calculate velocities,
knows how a falcon slices
through blue spaces
and why a boy can not, and how
the lucid air turns loud and brutal
and why the the cross-hatched sea
becomes a butcher’s block.
He is learning
it’s the sleep of the heart
He could mend a broken clock.