We parted on bad terms, Grandad and I.
He wasn’t a blood relation, more of an in-law, but he was
‘Grandad’ to all of us all the same.
And one evening around suppertime he and I had an argument and
I had threatened—in a manner of speaking—to punch him,
which forced him into
manly posturing which
could only end with someone
—ie Grandad—
having to back down, humiliatingly.
And all about rubbing a dog’s nose in its piss
to train it, Pavlov-style, B.F. Skinner-mode, CBT-method,
not to piss that way again.
So I said that if, for example, I came up to him
and simply punched him in the face,
would he know exactly what not to do
whatever it was he had done
that I didn’t like,
ever again?
Would he feel properly trained?
There and then, forevermore?
How easy is it to train stupid fucking human beings
by rubbing their noses in a piss-punch?
Would they straightaway get the point?
This made him feel the need to threaten to punch me in return,
and so he did a little dance, running on the spot, and
hefting his knees up to his waist exaggeratedly
as if planning to thunder towards me
and break my face.
Neither of us moved, so nothing happened—
the knee-lifts came to an end, and he turned away.
In the bigger picture
none of this mattered, as neither of us would
need the other
for anything practically meaningful
ever again.

Then, not long after that incident, a kind of confusion set in:
there was no room for him where he was going, so I was asked
‘can Grandad stay with you?’
In principle yes, but there was no room here either,
so he never arrived at my door, but
I think the idea took hold that
I had said I didn’t want him.
Not true, but what can you do when
there’s this kind
of a misunderstanding?

Years passed, and many years later, Grandad died.
He was in his mid-eighties by then, so although
I felt the customary sense of emptiness and loss,
there was not much else to feel.
I remembered our standoff, and
wondered whether
it would have been altogether better
had I had not threatened him.
(Answer: yes.)
Then by a convoluted set of circumstances one day
I was handed, without explanation, a bag of nearly new clothes
—plaid shirt, pyjamas, a couple of Lacostes – all in good condition—
and asked if
I wanted them.
Why not, I said, looking into the bag.
It tuned out they were Grandad’s cast offs—
things bought for him while he was in his old folks’ dementia home—and
hardly worn, nearly new, and freshly washed.
Problem was, someone had scrawled his name in biro—
together with a room number—on all the labels,
grimly illustrating his final captivity and
Keith, room 33.

So the question is, how long after someone has
died can you wear their clothes without
sensing their dead presence next to
your skin? Sure,
Lee Miller took a bath in Hitler’s tub after
the liberation of Munich, with her pink arse cheeks sliding along
in exactly the places where Adolf put his, but I honestly
couldn’t take a bath in Hitler’s place even today,
even if I knew he always had Blondi pissing
in the water with him.
I doubt I could even take a casual leak in
Dolf’s Nazi porcelain pan without my
blood running cold.
Grandad’s clothes are still
in a drawer waiting for me
to wear them, when
the time is right, which
may well never come. The shirts
perhaps, but the pyjama bottoms, with
the thought of his dead balls
rubbing up against mine, doubtful.
And it’s those godawful
biro scrawls on the labels which are
messing with my mind,
and teaching me how to be a
good doggie.