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THOSE WERE THE DAYS: BLADDER WRACK

The hospital turfed Dad out for Christmas
accompanied by an awful chill
that dulled the very middle
of our coal fire and shivered
the pine of our kitchen table
beneath its bobbled red velveteen.

Mam rustled up a couple of rabbits
a bunch of sage, a pound of Cheshire
and baked a lovely spice cake.
She'd been gone an hour to the Rising Sun
getting in trim for Christmas Eve —
of course, the doctor hadn't told her —

when Dad, pressing his belly as if he
was gutshot, sprang off the flowery sofa
and grabbed for the towel under the mantel
with its half-crown blue alarm clock
and poor Aunt Ruby's Dickensian vase —
a spectral coach at furious gallop.

The stitches hadn't held;
so there he was, blushing
and leaking from his "warty" bladder
all over the hearth rug
shedding his trousers and shoes.
I unwillingly glimpsed he was circumcised

at the instant I heard Mam
tripping tipsy on the steps outside
bearing her Jug and Bottle jug
with its greeny whiskered portrait
of William Ewart Gladstone
and quart of old or maybe mild and bitter.

      — Ted Burford