My grandfathers stood as a pair of fearful warnings.
Ruined by drink and tainted with foreign blood
they lurched high-shouldered and dark
in the mouth of a past too shameful to be imagined.
And so, of course, we imagined obsessively
whole avenues of secret, lustrous trees
twinkling forbidden forebears through the verdant chinks
that showed between those black, dishevelled sentries.
We felt that a man of bottom might do for a start,
an usher's son with a yearning for the sea,
carried ashore from a wreck on a keg of brandy
and afterwards author of pamphlets on customs and excise.
His sons would have been concave, tubercular,
given to exhorting mountains on revolution,
to curacies, opium, madness in far-flung outposts
and premature death.
Their progeny, though morbid in early youth
and exercised by some decay of faith,
would have taken comfort from In Memoriam,
shown public spirit by redeeming fallen women,
inspecting schools and penning volumes of letters
commanding younger Fredericks and Alfreds
to abjure The Fleshly School.
From unions with dazed ivory models
and ripe brunettes, born so it seems on the less
acceptable side of the Empire's blanket,
pendulous households burgeoned like Kelmscott borders,
growths of grandparents, guilty of green carnations,
of socialist views, absinthe and profligate spending.
Lopped of unknown uncles at Ypres, heavy with
lunatic aunts, the last springs fan across the present,
delivering familiar names like little flags
in a long irrefutable flourish of ordinary cousins.