A Funny Smell

Gareth Reeves

‘It couldn’t have,’ said the rat man,
‘Warfarin makes them head for the open, gasping.’
It had slunk under the floor to decompose.
Father: ‘It’s Brooke again, he’s smelling’
– Brooke being the critic who had slammed him –
and we’d chorus it round the house, holding our noses.

Not the stuff of poetry, rotting rats.
Yeats turned father down for the Oxford Modern Verse
with ‘Too reasonable, too truthful. We poets
should be good liars ... gay warty lads’ – perverse:
at about that time he was busy climbing down
to set up in rag and bone. Father harboured that.
His poems continued to ripple in subsong
over the backwater, feathering the inky currents.

As I remember this it all seems a lie.
Did we prise up the boards? Did the smell just fade?
When I was ten, for every poem I wrote
he promised me sixpence. After that I was silent.
Why is it poems kill people off before they are dead?
– every poem an epitaph and so on. Now he’s not here
I’d bring him alive, warts and all. I’ll pay.