Unfinished business

David 2

Who knows where the time goes? A year ago I wrote about ‘Our David’s Pictures’. Tomorrow, it’s our David’s birthday again; he’d be forty four. I’ve found myself writing about him again during this year, particularly about how he died. But a month ago we were redecorating, and I had to move a big old wardrobe. Behind it, neatly wrapped up, I re-found this painting. It’s four feet by two, so it shouldn’t slip in and out of my mind as it does over the years.

A couple of weeks after David’s funeral my good friend Bob Hogarth, the Art Adviser said: why don’t you do a painting of him? Why don’t you paint his life? I set out on a collage of maps of the city, photographs of his childhood, images of a small attache case and a strange ugly ring that he’d left on the top floor of that block of flats behind the Merrion Centre, an old atlas open at a map of Africa. Buddleia. Hydrangeas. I worked on it for a week or so. And then stopped. Just a layer of collage and thinned down acrylics. Every couple of years I’ll have a look at it, and resolve to finish it. But I don’t think I want to. I suspect I understand why.

Anyway, for his birthday, I don’t want to think about endings and finishings. Let me share a beginning with you. It’s a complicated story, but the core of it is that we were at yet another stage of the usually ponderous adoption process, which suddenly accelerated quite wonderfully and frighteningly, and we found ourselves sitting in the small living room of a foster-mum, and our David, who wasn’t yet Our David, four months old and surrounded by love, was having his bath. He wasn’t called David, either. He was Conrad Hamilton Gervaise Irving (no surname), and just Conrad, for convenience. When you adopt a child you’re not supposed to keep his or her given names. Since the truth is that the amazing and enlightened social worker short-circuited every due process that evening, and that we drove home up the M1 with Our David in a carry-cot on the backseat of a Ford Anglia, it didn’t seem so transgressive to keep Conrad as his middle name. David Conrad Foggin. Here’s one more poem. Happy birthday.

This much
I remember:
the small neat creases, the crook of each elbow,
the crook of each knee, the soft place
between your neck and your shoulder,
and the tight whorls of dark hair
tattooing your skull, and the delight,
the wide pink of your open mouth
as you came shedding light and bright water
out of your bath, how you sank
in the fleece of a fat white towel,
and you lay on your back on her knee
and you danced,
how you pedalled and trod on the air,
and how pale the soles of your feet.
You were mangoes, grapes, you were apricots,
all your round warm limbs, your eyes.
How your name made you smile;
how we said it over and over, your name;
how we wanted to make that smile.
And I remember
how we would take you away,
and why your name could not come,
why we must leave it behind,
and how we feared for your smile.

11 thoughts on “Unfinished business

  1. Very moving, John. I’m so sorry for you and yours and for that little boy you loved so much. You write so clearly, uncluttered with just the sheer peaks of love and loss showing through, so steep. So beautiful.

    I’m waffling. Much love xxxxx


  2. Very moving, John. I’m so sorry for you and yours and for that little boy you loved so much. I understand about the picture. You write so clearly, uncluttered, unsentimental, just clear peaks of love and loss, beautiful, unscalable mountains.

    Waffling. Very much love xxx


  3. That’s so wonderful John, so glad that one of us can express emotions so well. By the way he would have been forty four tomorrow, I was always better with numbers!! Nina xx


    1. I just felt glad to have written it, Lydia. That absolution. That sounds up itself, but you know what I mean. There’s stuff in your collection does that. Absolution and exorcism. Blue-eyed bad boys on the bus. A shotgun’s blued muzzles.


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