David Lewis Paget
The Man At The Back
I don’t remember my grandfather
He died, before I was born,
And none of the uncles and aunts had kids
So I grew apart, alone,
Then I overheard my father say
It was surely a mystery,
So I pressed him then, I wanted to know
The family history!
He muttered something I’d heard before
That sleeping dogs should lie,
I thought, ‘You won’t get away with that, ’
And I put the question, ‘Why? ’
‘There are things it’s better you didn’t know
For they might affect your head,
And after all, what use is it,
The folk that you seek are dead! ’
‘Let’s say that I’m more than curious
Of the line that I’m springing from,
I carry their genes and bloodlines
So I’d like to know… I’m wrong? ’
He told me all he remembered
So I wrote down what he said,
And then he pulled out the photographs
That were hidden, under his bed.
I thought that I’d found a treasure trove
When I saw those dusty prints,
In a box of several hundred
There were sepia tones, and tints,
There were tiny snaps in black and white
There were portraits of a few,
From studios in Blackpool, and
In Edinburgh, too.
But they weren’t in any order, and
The backs of some were blank,
I recognised quite a few of them
Like the ones of my Uncle Frank.
But they stared on out from some lost time
That had caught a moment’s light,
Imprinted its shape on negatives
In the tones of black and white.
I was only young in those far off days
So I couldn’t see, at first,
It was as the years went tumbling by
I began to fear the worst,
For a shadow had formed on many prints,
A man in the background stood,
He was only faint, like a ghostly taint
But he stayed on the prints for good.
The man was old, and he stood far off
So I couldn’t make out his face,
He was there on the beach at Margate,
He was sat on a seat in Thrace,
Wherever the family went, he was
In the background, looking grim,
From 1895 and on
They couldn’t get rid of him.
He started to look familiar
In the background of their lives,
He’d stare at my old great-grandfathers
And stalk their long-ago wives.
I asked my father: ‘Who can he be
He appears in every shot, ’
He said: ‘I told you to let dogs lie,
Whether you like, or not.’
He never wanted to look himself
He said it had come unglued,
‘Nothing should ever begin before
Its time and its date is due! ’
I hadn’t wanted to understand,
My father in turn had sighed,
And then one day in a casual way
I heard that my father died.
I seemed to age with his passing, then,
My hair was suddenly grey,
The mirror said I was getting old,
And older than old each day.
I took the box with the photo’s in
And hid them under my bed,
‘You’re looking more like your grandfather, ’
My wife in her wisdom said.
My son grew up and he came one day
To uncover a mystery,
He said he wanted to see the prints
Of his family history.
I said, ‘It’s better you didn’t know,
Some things you’d better not see, ’
For now, the mirror had long confirmed
The man at the back was me!
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Poet's Notes about The Poem
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