Unfinished business: Our David


our david c 2

July 29th. He’d have been 46 today, and I go on writing poems for him. I’m taken aback, every time. I think there’s nothing left to be said. But there is. There always will be. Happy birthday, lovely boy


I made this box,


ran quick lead in the veins of driftwood roots,

the silver grain of bleached board and the wind-eyes

of burnished beachstones – rose quartz, granite, flint,

bound them with silver wire to honey oak, red pine,

and clenched them tight with sea-rust iron nails.


I made this box for you


I filled it with fragments, beachcombed

sea glass, wisps of snagged wool.

I wanted you to know

the random loveliness of being alive,

to know it in your bones and blood.


I put in :


snow, to remember draughts

and rooms with cold corners;


a black handled knife, sharp as silk

in a grey-vaulted market, the scent


of cut flowers to show that fathers

give like the gods; a bicycle stammering


through stems of barley, willowherb,

to understand that gravity may be defied;


the humped glass of a brown river,

black branches snagged on the weir’s rim;


these bundled letters in different hands

and inks to show how words fall short of love.


I put in riddles:


silhouettes of mountains, oiled gun barrels,

a sheriff’s badge, a dust-blown street,


a child running in a drift of grasses,

a scrubbed deal table in a pitman’s house.



I wondered if you’d find the answers

if I might understand the questions.


I did not want to put inside my box

your cold clay mouth

this pale oak chamfered cube

and my two hands holding it, all


I wanted was you holding my box

in a high place

where you could only fly, not fall

our david c 1


I made this box” appeared originally in Much Possessed. smith|doorstop 2016

8 thoughts on “Unfinished business: Our David

  1. Dear John,

    I attended the York Explore Library poetry event last night (24/01/19) and was moved by the piece you shared about your son David.

    I am so sorry for your loss – i know your heart must have broken in ways – perhaps unsalvageable to this day.

    The reason i write to you – is because i myself, am 21 this year. Only last week i overdosed on my anti-depressent pills and left a note for my parents explaining how it had not been an accident.

    Of course, i do not know of your relationship with David, nor do i know the circumstance or reasoning, but what your poem did allow me to understand was – what my own father had meant when he had said i had been selfish to have acted upon my suicidal thoughts, selfish to have asked for an early death.

    Suicide – can be very selfish, very in the moment, very manipulative, very scary, very isolating. Regardless of what you may or may not think, as a surviver of an attempted suicide but continued outpatient of mental health services, i want to remind you that David – would have loved you very much. You are not to blame, and that although his life was cut short, and how i know you wish there had been more days for him, try to recall the good parts of those 21 years. Bottle those moments, the smiles, the laughter, the arguments, the fallouts.

    I know there is no solution, no fix, no way of getting over it, i am not going to be ignorant enough to even suggest such a thing – it is shit. Well and truly. No doubt about it. Mental health, is well and truly, shit. Yet you HAVE managed to pick yourself up somehow, i applaud you for doing so as i cannot imagine how difficult it must have been at the time. You have inspired me to keep on writing and using poetry as an outlet for my emotions. You have inspired me to really take care of those around me, and hey, even myself sometimes!

    I wish you all the best. Apologies if this email is out of turn, i really do not mean to cause upset or offence – after hearing you read tonight i simply could not get to sleep without getting in touch.

    Thank you for your bravery and for sharing your story of David with us.

    Best wishes,

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m very moved by your story, Amber. Thank you for trusting me with it. I think there are two things I hold on to, quite unshakeably. I have never understood how anyone who takes, or tries to take, his/her own life could be accused of selfishness. Think about it. It seems simple when you listen to the accusation..’how could you do this to ME?’. Not “how could you ever hurt yourself like that?” I think I understand. It’s about fear. It’s about acknowledging that either you couldn’t help, or didn’t know you needed to help, or simply ignored it and hoped it would go away…..well, who wouldn’t fear admitting it? It’s about transferring the guilt. It’s not cruel or stupid. It’s about self-preservation. The other thing is that we need to learn to love ourselves. Until we do that we can’t love or help each other. It’s one of the first things I had to learn as a recovering alcoholic (which genuinely wasn’t related to David’s suicide)…we have to admit that we can’t manage our own lives without help. In AA that’s a higher power. It’s difficult to understand. A long long process. And it’s impossible if we can’t have the kind of ‘selfishness’ that lets us love ourselves. It sounds like you have a lot to live for. Love yourself. You deserve it.

      Liked by 1 person

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