‘From the Family Album’ Patrick B. Osada
East View Publishing
ISBN 9781527270718, £10
Patrick Osada’s seventh collection is a remembrance of childhood and adulthood memories in conversation with his family photographs. A profound relationship with nature, landscapes, animals, the climate and the changing of seasons inspires vivid imageries and deft lines. The poems trace a journey through the poet’s life where the inevitable end is constantly evoked in an atmosphere of hope and renewal. The book is dedicated to his beloved wife, Lynn, and is divided into three sections: Gloucester, Afterwards and Holiday Snaps. The poems in the first section introduce the reader to the calm and comfortable ambience of the poet’s family:
‘I was with my Gran while Mum was working –
too young for school, I had to stay at home;
on wash days I became Gran’s little helper –
but what I did to help is hard to know.
The bit that I enjoyed most every wash day
was going with my Gran out to the shed
where she took the washing to be mangled –
Gran’s mangle was, for me, the big event.
Sometimes I would help to turn the handle
and marvelled as the rollers slowly turned
with water cascading to a tin bath
the fat, wet clothes were magically thinned.’
(‘2, The Oval, Gloucester’ late 1940s)
‘“Hey up!,” he’d cry, lighting the surface with a match.
I never failed to be impressed
and horrified in case the magic should go wrong.
I held my breath as quietly meths burned away:
a ghostly flame, a ball of heat
drawing the moisture from the wood
leaving the surface clear, and by some miracle, unmarked.’
Ordinary family events become relevant. The poet looks at them with a sense of wonder through the eyes of an enchanted child; they are miracles that magically occur and reveal new details. Memories are cleverly described as ‘a rich cloth to embroider/and take pride in’ (Tilly’); they are constructed but also true, comforting people and shaping personalities. In his poems, Osada describes his childhood as ‘secure’: he was ‘a happy, cared-for boy’, his parents supported him and he knew they were there, although at a distance sometimes. Nevertheless, ‘Photos show a lonely child/with neat and perfect toys’; he felt a coldness that slipped through and made him ‘flinch and cry’ (‘Secret’). This coldness does not spoil his relationship with his family, though; he remains very affectionate towards his parents in the several poems dedicated to them, especially when they are elderly and have become more vulnerable. However, this sense of loss might be the reason for the poet’s intense contact with nature, which is expressed in lyrical verse and striking imageries:
‘These are golden days, redolent
of sun, thin mists and morning dew;
when chestnuts, rich with boughs of gold,
spread leaves to gleam up from the grass
and, in still air, each gossamer
web glitters with a thousand pearls.’
‘A night of storms:
waking to an orange glow,
a lively wind and everything washed clean.
After the call,
that high speed drive seems futile now.
Along the route, so many signs of death:
foxes, pheasants –
a wing still beating with the traffic’s rush –
as if a life could hang by just a thread.
Later you looked relaxed, at peace –
that grimace lost to lasting sleep.
Unselfconscious now of clutched bouquet –
a pose in life you would find risible.
And, from the window,
first trembling signs of spring:
sunshine on trees and hills,
a flier’s sky set blue: immutable.’
(‘Lament’, IV. De Profundis)
The poet celebrates his parents’ 60th wedding anniversary and mourns the death of a friend in these poems; his feelings merge with the landscape that voices his joy and his grief. It is a symbolic osmosis that follows a natural course and inspires hope and renewal. Death is present but it is not conclusive in the pervasive ‘sense of spring’.
In the second section, different topics are present and the symbolic function of nature is developed further in references to ordinary things in a mediation on the end of life. Animals come to the foreground, especially birds and beloved pets, such as cats:
‘She comes each day –
Even in BIG FREEZE –
Everyday fresh seed.
See, the feeder comes!
Do not be afraid,
Keep still and wait;
Keep still and wait,
Cousins gather now,
Soon we all shall eat.
Thank feathered God
For safe roosts, clear skies …
And all this creature’s love.’
‘Rescued from abuse – we had to build your trust –
you sat and watched our other cat and learned.
So timid then, your instinct was to hide
and once, in terror, threw yourself down stairs.
We watched and saw your confidence return –
the garden and the sun became your friends
and everyday you’d make your way outside
or watched from windowsill on days of rain.’
Rhymes and alliteration give a specific musical quality to Osada’s poetry, involving the reader in his rich language. These techniques are reflected in the position of some phrases that are placed at the end of a sentence, or in the repetitions, such as ‘Keep still and wait’ (‘Feeding Birds’); they are intended to highlight the key ideas of his poems and emphasise the rhythm of his lines. The ordinary becomes alive, a concept that is reminiscent of St Francis of Assisi’s view that all the creatures on earth deserve praise and love.
The final section, Holiday Snaps, is a witty description of places the poet visited. He captures the essence of the sites with a personal angle that does not mean to be exhaustive but points out what normally goes unnoticed:
‘Careful brush strokes
emphasize the detailed
whiskers, ears, eyes and glossy fur …
And I am held:
trapped by memories
and a five hundred year-long stare.’
(‘At the Albertina’)
‘Outside the airport, waiting for the bus.
Sauna heat, such air, so damp and thick
I must grow gills to breathe.
Driving into dusk and sudden dark:
thunderheads mass as neon flares,
forked lightning strobes the sky.’
(‘More Home Thoughts from Abroad’, Florida, USA)
The series of haiku ‘Visiting India’ is particularly effective in its essential elegant originality and shows a skilful use of the form.
‘Heat so pervasive
makes you sweat in the shower,
big fans slice thick air.’
‘At the Railway Station’
‘Ignored by the crowd
stepping round this pile of rags –
dead beggars don’t count’
blood-orange sun slips away,
leaving amber sky.’
The last poem, ‘Tranquillity’, a villanelle, closes this compelling collection by highlighting the stillness of the lockdown:
‘This spot is where tranquillity is found
with mind and nature joined in harmony;
the stillness of this place is quite profound
when wind and silence are the only sounds.’
The human presence is once more connected to nature in a repetition of lines that accurately describes the condition’ we are experiencing during the pandemic. This is how the poet concludes his collection, which ranges from his childhood to the present in a captivating journey of the imagination.