The Ghost of a Smile
I looked up from my plate
and saw the ghost
of my father’s smile
separating like milk
across the dining table.
I sat there as usual,
a fork in one hand,
a knife in the other,
and neatly, precisely,
divided myself in two.
My father lived in the Garden of Allah,
an exotic, bungalow-style hotel
which Thomas Wolfe told Scott Fitzgerald
he could not believe existed, even in Hollywood.
He was sacked by Paramount after serving only
one year of a five-year contract
when his first three films made the Critics’
Ten Worst Films list for 1934.
He heard the news of his redundancy
when the Studio called him at the Garden
and told him they had 2400 signed publicity stills
he might like to take home with him.
I found them thirty years later,
stuck together from damp in an old vanity case.
Almost everything about him had changed,
if it ever really existed.
The toothbrush moustache, slightly curled,
recalled the Garden of Allah, long since demolished
by the Lytton Loan and Savings Company
to make way for another tower block.
The company left behind a model of the Garden
to mark the spot where it had stood on Sunset Blvd.
I went looking for the model in 1975,
but it too had disappeared without trace.
The Phoney War
The Army contrived to enter
a wide range of deductions
for this particular week.
No one got much above ten shillings.
Your father, I remember,
whose debts to the Inland Revenue
amounted to four figures,
received, incredulously, about 8/6.
He had placed the coins on the railway line
and let a train pass over them,
so that they were larger, thinner,
and completely valueless.
According to the Sergeant Major
he would have been burnt to a cinder
when he set his foot
on the live rail we’d heard so much about,
if it hadn’t been for the toecaps
on his boots, or the fact that
his bayonet was fixed.
Everyone except your father
had some theory or other
why he was lucky to be still alive,
guarding Staines Railway Bridge
during the Phoney War.
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