I must have been six when my adenoids
Came out at the Royal Infirmary
In Glasgow. We were living at Farme Cross
Where three roads intersected at the center
Of the world: Farmeloan Road, Dalmarnock Road,
And Cambuslang Road. One led to my school,
One to Glasgow, one to my grandparents’ home.
My mother and I had moved there before
The end of World War Two to get ready
For my father’s discharge from the army.
Mum told me one day our neighbor’s window
Had been pierced by shrapnel the night before.
“Are we winning the war?” I asked her once.
“I don’t know,” she said. But in time we did.
There in Rutherglen, my father’s hometown,
We lived two floors above Grandpa Johnston’s
Ground-level flat. I didn’t know about
This grandfather who lived downstairs until
Some neighbor boys pointed him out to me,
A shuffling old man with a brown cloth cap,
Thick white hair, and a handlebar moustache.
He and my father never spoke a word
To each other in the five years we lived there.
When I knocked the door of the old man’s flat
And introduced myself he just grunted.
After that I’d say hello when we passed \
Each other on the sidewalk, no melting
Hearts, no happy reunion of father,
Son, and grandson. And when the old man died,
Years later, when we were in the U.S.,
With the McCarthy hearings in full throat,
My uncle made a Transatlantic call
To deliver the news, and my father
Refused to share costs of the funeral.
All that was years ahead as in my ward
At the infirmary the nurse told me
Tonsillectomy patients got ice cream,
But adenoids didn’t deserve that treat.
I lay in bed thinking about the dog
I’d brought home at my other Grandpa’s place,
A wire-haired terrier, black and tan coat,
I’d called him Paddy. His rightful owner
Claimed him, but not before the dog hauled me
Down a flight of stairs, later bit my nose.
I missed him anyway.
And when no one
Came to visit me I lay in my bed
In the ward unable to stop my tears.
The boy in the next bed knew I was six
And told me I was a just a spoiled baby.
The shame I felt stayed with me long after
The anesthetic dreams of octopi
And the doctor’s snipping of my adenoids.
My parents kept smoking and my breathing
Never did improve until middle age.
The kid in the ward was right all along.