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My father
Taught me the ways of
Knots and tools;

He showed me
How to whip a rope
With an old

He’d salvaged from his
Years at sea.

He’d tuck the
Loose whippings under,
Pull them firm

And the frayed
Ends would tighten, stiff
As a stick.

Almost with
Awe he’d touch the tongues
Of chisels

And jackplanes.
He loved the feel and
Tang of wood.

His plane hissed
Down the long oak-grain
Spinning thin

Shavings up
Through the sun-shafts in
His workshop.

Then he’d squint
Down the plank, muttering
To himself.

He taught me
All the knots he knew,
And they are

Sheep-shank, Garrick bend,
Clove hitch — all

Their forms like
Fluent signatures
Each with its

And purpose. I
Practice them

Now, with my
Grandson, Nicholas.
He’s four. We’re

Taking a breather.
I wonder

If he’ll learn
These old disciplines
Although, as

For the knots,
I rarely use them — yet,
When we were

Lost last month
In a black sea-storm
My clove-hitch

Held the mad
Sweep-oar we rigged to
Haul us home.

    The tools, though,
Are a different thing.
I keep them

Oiled and honed:
Imperatives from
My father.

His handgrip still like
Carbon steel,

I call him
For his birthday: Ten
Thousand miles.

Good-day, there,
He says. Still got it ?
        That knife

I lent you 
Last year.  Still use it?
           Good. Keep

It sharp, now.
‘Don’t worry. Hone it
Every day.’

He tells me
He plans to build a
Boat with wings

To lift planes
Downed at sea. He thinks
Of the dead.

I say, ‘Send me all
Your sketches.’

I hang up.
We’re lying about
The knife. That

Was ’60,
Maybe ’61.
I lost it

Moving house,
Somewhere in England.
We both know

I’ll never
Find it now.        
                                A man   
Who touched words

He told me: ‘Tools are
The point where

Meets nature: always

Respect it.’
That was his own, and
Almost worth

The years of
Solitude, the pain
He never

Shook away.
With respect, I hand
My grandson

His hammer
And we both bang nails
Hard into

The big house
We’re building in the

With the birds
And spiders. I watch
His face as,

Frowning, he
Concentrates, and I

The clear blue
Gaze of my father —
At four, and

Ninety four.