Tuesday Poem: Family Man

Family Man

My double relishes his freedom to move
through narrative and time. You’ll find him

in the trunks of burned-out cars,
in the cat seat of history, riding pillion

as the motorcade fails to take the bend.
On the red carpet, just behind the stars,

he whispers poison in each lovely ear.
He’s the sine qua non, the ne plus ultra,

the hand chained to the plague ship’s tiller,
the indispensable figure of the fifth act.

But now he’s taken to hanging round the house,
not picking up, showing the boy amusing tricks

and games to play with string. I’m bored,
my double tells me, and:- how can you stand

to live this way? I look into his empty face.
You’re the one who chose to fall in love, I say.


“Family Man” was published in JAAM 27 (2009), edited by Ingrid Horrocks, and I plan to include it in my forthcoming collection “Men Briefly Explained”.

‘The indispensable figure of the fifth act’ is an epithet applied to himself by Pechorin, the anti-hero of Mikhail Lermontov’s great early Russian novel A Hero Of Our Time, in the translation by Paul Foote. For what it’s worth, Pechorin – named after the River Pechora in Russia – is a double of Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin, named after the River Onega. I’m not sure I had that in mind when I wrote the poem, though.

Check out all the Tuesday Poems on the Tuesday Poem Blog.

12 thoughts on “Tuesday Poem: Family Man

  1. Thanks, Mary and Fifi!I haven't read \”The Double\”, though I have read and enjoyed several other of Saramago's books – after, each time, surmounting the hurdle of his inimitable approach to punctuation!

  2. Thanks, Susan. This poem is one of those rare ones that pretty much wrote itself – looking back at the first draft, I see that I haven't done much to it except to delete the two lines I started with, and change it from 3- to 2-line stanzas.It actually started from Princess Diana's statement that \”there are three people in this marriage\” – which was one of the deleted lines – and went from there. So, the debauchery of the British upper class is principally to blame.

  3. Fascinating to hear how the poem got going – but even without the explanation of inspiration, it sort of nails you right where Fifi felt the shiver down her legs. Clever Man.

  4. When I say nails \”you\” I mean the reader, not the poet… just in case…

  5. Thanks, Maggie! This poem does seem to have hit the spot with lots of people. I am happy to take credit for cleverness where it is due – my invention of the Internet, for example – but in this case, it felt as though the words arrived without much conscious effort, so I'm not sure cleverness was responsible.

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