When I wrote the poem “The Cure” I did not have the world of Eugene O’Neill in the front or back of my mind. When asked to contribute to this folio about him, and his great plays, “The Cure” did stand out as a poem that he would have, I think, related to. No doubt it is cliché-ing him and his world, the author submerged in alcohol and the world of his father. But there is truth in cliché sometimes, and hopefully there is dignity in this poem in the way that he dignified his father and the world he came from in his plays. There is also the sense of the ambiguity of identity, especially with regard to oneself and one’s parents, which is very much part of his plays and his own life. My father’s compositor/printing world is as much a background, and has as much of an effect on me, as his father’s actor world, and the alcohol, well, O :
for my father
I drop into the printers and graft
to you with my hangover on hearing
the tall drinking tales of your craft
from an apprentice of yours, latching
on to the old typesetter days like myself.
He swore he could write a book.
I thought of how you were partial yourself
to a jorum or two, but you would look
down on my pint-swaggering and remind me
you kept your drinking to Saturday night,
barring births, weddings, deaths and maybe
the odd quick one if the company was right.
And for the most part I keep to that too,
but last night was a night I broke
and went on the rantan from bar to
bar, jawing with whatever bloke,
solving the world’s problems drink by drink
and cigarette by cigarette, swigging
and puffing away the whole lousy stink.
You nagged away in my head about smoking
and how the butts did away with you.
But I swear the way I stood there
and yakkety-yakked, slagged and blew
smoke in the smoke-shrouded air,
coughing your smoker’s cough,
I thought that you had turned into me
or I into you. I laughed your laugh
and then, knowing how you loved company,
I refused to quit the bar and leave you alone
or leave myself alone or whoever we were.
I raised my glass to your surprise return.
And now I hear you guffaw once more
as your apprentice continues to recount
printers’ drink lore and asks if I know
comps at Signature O got a complimentary pint.
I joust our way out the door repeating O O O.
[From Collected Poems, 1986-2006, Oxford Poets Series, Carcanet Press]