I Contemplate the Afterlife Whilst Watching An Episode of Only Fools And Horses With My Dad

by Jeanette Burton

Awarded 1st Place in PPP Poetry Competition 2023

Rodney is telling Del Boy that if he ends up being reincarnated,
it would be just his luck to come back as himself and I can’t help
but think about this one duck I encountered in the park last week.
She opened her beak and out came, not a quack, but Sid James’
laugh and it occurs to me that maybe we don’t come back
as ourselves, maybe it’s just our best bits, our lovable parts
passed on to someone or something, so that somewhere
in the world is a cat with the comic timing of Tommy Cooper,
or a little girl with the homing instincts of a prize Carrier pigeon.
My dad wheezes out his almost silent laugh, as he always does
when he watches classic comedy and I wonder if after he’s gone
this will transfer to the soul of an antelope or a ballet dancer.
What if my dad’s best traits are not his at all, but actually belong
to a sheep farmer from New Zealand, a chocolatier from France?
What if in a past life my dad was a squadron leader from WW2?
How would we ever know? I doubt this pilot had celebrity status.
He wasn’t famous, no Sid James or your run of the mill reincarnation:
Henry VIII, Elvis, the captain of the Titanic. But one day there could be
a child, a daughter, who bumps into my dad, knows how to separate
man from man, tells us all about her father’s farewell smile,
(which we always thought unique to our dad), how he beamed
at his waving children every time he set off on dangerous mission.
What if this man had no family, no friends, shunned human contact?
What if no one came after, no one to stop my dad in the street,
say, ‘You’ll never believe this, but you are the absolute spit of my
father, grandfather, godfather, uncle …’? Then we’d never know
if our annual holidays abroad, planned like a military procedure,
were our dad’s design or a throwback to the mid nineteenth century.
Back in Nelson Mandela House, the Trotter brothers are busy plotting
another scheme and hoping to be millionaires by this time next year.
I look over at my dad who wheezes at Uncle Albert’s ‘during the war…’
If Rodney’s right about the afterlife, if I’m reincarnated as myself,
I’ll get to relive these moments with my dad, watching 80s sitcoms,
even if he sneezes like an Arctic explorer, sings like a Welsh miner,
if like a great compilation clip, he’s made of the best bits from before.