The Grandfather I Never Knew

It’s a shame but he seems like a total stranger
Herbert Lacey, my grandfather.
He’s just nineteen in the photograph
Taken, I’m told, in nineteen-oh-nine.
He stares unsmiling at the lens,
Strong nose, firm mouth, eyes set apart.

He has an air of innocence,
Seems ill at ease as well he might
In unfamiliar formal dress,
Stiff collar, tie, and Sunday suit.
A watch-chain dangles from the pocket
Of his tightly buttoned waistcoat.

He wears a cap that seems too large
And stands behind the studio chair
Rigidly gripped in his workman’s hands.
Try as I might I can’t detect
A family face, except perhaps
His ears stick out a bit like mine.

What was he like, my grandfather?
The photo gives no clue, although
I see he bit his fingernails.
Poor Herbert, young and ill at ease,
I do not know you but I know
How you will marry, have a child

Fall sick and seven years from now
Be dead so young and never know
Who won the war, how long it lasted
Nor how fair your daughter grew.
Now I your grandson growing old
Give you these lines in gratitude.

by Pete Crowther

Comments (1)

Don't you wish old photographs could talk? As I read this poem, my two year old grandson was playing with the photograph of his grandfather, my first husband who died when my youngest child was six. I hope they will have the good sense to talk to the old photos and maybe have a bit of gratitude in their heart, too. Thanks for this poem, Peter. Raynette