When I was six, I tumbled down
the rabbit-hole with Alice. I loved
the tetchy caterpillar, and the Turtle.
I could have put that Hatter in his place,
and told a better story than the dormouse
— treacle-well, indeed! — that would have had
the three of them transfixed — and thankfully,
speechless. Oh, and it was always six!
Always the day’s best moment, always tea-time.
Over the fields from school, the pretty cows
heads down and busy. In the hungry hour
I used to draw real trees, not lollipops
but tapered trunks and webs of twigs
and shaded clouds beyond. Birds, though,
I never got quite right, made only two or three
far off. One day, in that same hour,
my father brought six kittens to be drowned.
We held them under water by the scruff,
two by two, till the bubbles stopped.
That done, and the corpses buried,
ten minutes before the hour of six
I took another drawing-sheet, and drew
a Cheshire cat with jagged stripes,
its mouth an m that used to be a bird,
turned over, venomously grinning.
SOURCE: Previously published online by Every Day Poets.
PHOTOGRAPH: The author as a young child.
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: It could be said that this poem took 60 years to write! The experience it describes happened, of course, when I was six years old; I knew some poetry then, especially Stevenson’s Child’s Garden of Verses, which I loved. But at six I had no idea that I could ever write poetry. ¶ I think my father was trying, a little prematurely, to “make a man of me” by making me face up to one of the harsh realities of country life – and death. There was quite a large population of feral cats in the nearby woods, and the numbers had to be kept down. I was too young, though, to accept this rationalisation and was very upset by the experience. So it remained with me until adulthood; in my twenties I wrote a very trite poem about it. ¶ Decades later I came across it along with a number of other poems written in youth. Not all of them were trite; some were pretentious. The one about the kittens seemed saveable and I reworked it. Even further down the line, I revised it again. Sixty years after the original ‘inspiration.” The facts of the story, including the Cheshire Cat, have survived.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: James Graham was born in 1939 in Ayrshire, Scotland, in a rural cottage lit by oil lamps and surrounded with meadows and woodland. He was a teacher for 30 years, but would rather have been a celebrated journalist and best-selling author. Most of his published work has been poetry, which has appeared in print magazines including The Dark Horse and The Linnet’s Wings, and several anthologies including Scottish Poetry (Edinburgh University Press) and the first and second Every Day Poets anthologies. His second collection, Clairvoyance, was published in the UK in 2007 by Troubador Press.