Wednesday, 14 September 2011

The Whales of August, in September

Last Friday would have been my father's 87th birthday. So that day I spent some time looking through the books his wife sent me after he died, and I came across a play he was in, in 1987: The Whales of August,
by David Berry.

I read it and loved it. The pages smelled faintly of dad's pipe smoke, all these years
later. His stage notes were scrawled all over the copy in his large, uppercase hand. I knew he loved this play, he loved playing the part of Maranov the Russian, but I never asked him if he played it with a Russian accent. I wish I knew.

The Whales of August, in September

I find this book among your things
which your wife sent and
I thought I didn’t want.
A play, which I’ve never read:
The Whales of August

Then all is not lost, dear lady...

It is one of your favourites,
which I never saw you perform.

Yes, dine and be flooded by moonlight...

Your pipe tobacco hits me before I even open
the cover,
then your uppercase, manly handwriting hits me,
when I do

And you held this book,
you broke this spine, smoked your pipe as you read
and marked these lines, your lines, with green pen

You loved this play. I remember now.

But then, a thing of beauty is never fully at rest...

I begin, and you are Maranov the faded Russian noble,
right from the start:

Maranov appears on porch boardwalk. Unbowed by his years, he moves with grace and dignity. He wears woolen knickers, a rather worn, dark tweed, stout boots and heavy socks, a blue shirt, and a roomy, old navy blue cardigan, all rather comfortably gone to seed. He sports a Panama hat and carries a bamboo fishing pole along with his burlap-bagged catch of sea perch. The women don’t notice him as he approaches the screen door...

It’s unspeakably sweet, this stage image of you,
aged, gentle, gracious,
a vagabond with great manners and a mysterious past
coming up from the beach with dinner, discreet and worldly

We have the promise of moonrise, and whales...

We spent years on the beach:

you flew kites,
you buried me in sand,
we ate “crisps” and drank wine,
we canoed,
in your later years you wore a crazy-man muumuu and
a tea cozy hat that really set you apart,
along with the zinc oxide nose cream

but not once did I see you fish

Art lies to us, once again.

Let us not speak of sad things...

And yet art tells us the truth, too, since I know
you would have loved delivering your last line...

Do you see how the moon casts silver coins along the shore?
There is a treasure, my dear, that can never be spent...

PD, Sept 14/2011
With thanks to David Berry!


Philippa Dowding said...

Thanks to all who emailed to say they can't leave a comment on this poem. I may have fixed that, you are more than welcome to try again!


Art does also tell the truth - which is why it's art.

I love your poem about this new moment with your dad.

Btw, would YOU play it with a Russian accent? The words would suit that I think.

Philippa Dowding said...

Dear Weird: well, there's no way I could carry off a Russian accent with that many lines, so no! I make "kalishnakov" sound English when I say it. But maybe a Lenin-style Russian accent was just another of dad's many surprises. It's fun to imagine it.

Ted said...

Well done!

Philippa Dowding said...

thanks Ted!

Willy Miles-Grenzberg said...


Rebecca said...

Lovely tribute, Philippa.

Philippa Dowding said...

thanks Rebecca!