Grandfathers in Helium
It’s Spring. I decide to write a sad play called Grandfathers in Helium,
about all four of my grandfathers. Because relatives tie you down.
Because give them an eighth of a chance and they’ll define you
– wellsprings of guilt not content as the source of nose, eyes, chin,
roots to your buds and leaves.
They are like last year’s fireworks, flashes on the inner eyelid, still firing.
I didn’t know them. They don’t know me.
This is normal in playwriting.
There were three good men on one side a ‘Right Old B*’ on the other.
Nobody died in any wars our family was hated for that.
The Old B* seduced half the street
turning widows and neighbours into something else,
a different kind of family the street became a new hell for some.
The other granny buried her confusion of men and looked for no more.
She’d had enough singing in Welsh, cooking and swearing in Italian.
Two were probably English as mutton. North and South.
One was Jewish, one Catholic, one a Methodist – (not the Welshman.)
Some of this may only be quarter truth.
One, a Major in the army, came back as something else.
The second was a famous wearer of greatcoats, and red felt hats.
Number three played his violin in the loft.
The last, a silent man, always gave clocks.
Everywhere there were clocks.
Spring, in a park: Two small ladies wear woollen coats, hats & gloves,
each with a snap-clasp handbag; they admire the vulnerable geraniums.
These are the anchors. The old ladies, not the geraniums.
A girl has bright balloons. Neon bubble-gum, with curlicue candy strings.
She holds each down for a time, draws faces with a marker pen – one goatee,
a moustache, a smile and a hat. Rosie cheeks and mismatched eyes.
Up they pop, bobbing and glinting, drunk on sun.
She shares the balloons fairly, not paying attention to who gets whom.
Here you are, she says. A quarter of the grandfathers. One to hold in each hand.
Despite hating boats / I
love the ocean/ and have
always known/ one day I
will die/ in deep water,
perhaps/at the bottom/of
a long ladder/ like in the
film The Big Blue/ I hope
a dolphin will come and
take me / to a blue place/
nobody can see
Despite my hatred/ of
boats, boating, boat
guys/ and their use of
fuel/ for recreational
purposes/ I find myself
on the back/ of a pleasure
boat wearing/ factor 50
and eyeing fishing
tackle/ with something
I don’t know why/ I am
here, or how/ I got here
but I want/ to get off,
perhaps/ into the sea
although/ now a gale/ is
coming or a squall I
don’t know/ but the
waves are sharpening/
coming fast/ against this
horrible boat/ why
haven’t you noticed/ I
grip the handrail/ I smile/
then I have to throw a
cocktail away/ into an
orange fire-bucket/ still
they are talking/ about
fishing and/ still I hate
boats/ boat guys/ and
There is a ladder/ behind
the boat/ I scan the sea
for dolphins/ How deep
is/ this water anyway/
Some depth/ expressed
in fathoms/ whatever
they are/ I really want to
ask/ Do you even find
dolphins here/ Is this the
right kind of water
Over the side/ I can see
nothing/ in these waves
called choppy/ not even
Tamsin Hopkins is studying a Creative Writing MA at Royal Holloway London. Her work has recently appeared in Best British and Irish Poets 2019-21, Tears in the Fence, The Interpreter’s House, MIR and a variety of competition anthologies. In 2020 she won the Aesthetica Award for poetry. Her pamphlet ‘Inside the Smile’ is published by Cinnamon. Follow Tamsin on Twitter: @THopkinsPoet.
To discover more content exclusive to our print and digital editions, subscribe here to receive a copy of The London Magazine to your door every two months, while also enjoying full access to our extensive digital archive of essays, literary journalism, fiction and poetry.