That was the first time I saw orchids.
A neighbour called over the hedge
though he didn’t like children.
Being twelve I obeyed,
even if his mouth was too
old man voluptuous.
Glaucous eyes behind
thick lenses caught and held me captive.
into a dark back room
where his wife sat in the corner,
so still she might have been dead,
then stepped around
his special door
into the warm extension.
The walls were glazed –
light filtered wetly
through overlapping fronds.
Flowers perched like fine curled
slices of moist raw veal.
He showed me his pride: cymbidium orchids –
See how they grip the climbers:
they live on trees,
sucking up water and leaf litter
as it drips down the bark.
Epiphytic, he called them.
Parasites, I thought.
Hold out your hands.
He sliced off an orchid head –
planted it, corpse cool,
in my upturned palms.
I held it: stemless, wounded,
incapable of survival.
Nothing but a gaping mouth –
Then he took a hooked knife,
cut away clinging roots
and tore through, as if
Look. That’s where I watch you play.
From his hide I peered
into my own clearing: a square of lawn –
sunlight painful after the shade.
My own discarded tennis racket waiting.
My sons say that they’ll pour my ashes here.
Already they can face that day
when I am only dust, raised by the breeze
to skim the varnished seats where those ‘most missed’
once sat and ‘loved to gaze across the sea’.
No underground for me. My powdered flecks
will light on grass, dance over to West Hill Cafe
to speck a cappuccino or cream tea.
At night, perhaps, in higher winds,
some particle will soar, drift out, then float
down; down and outwards to the shore,
where teenagers light fires and huddle close
as one hurls angry pebbles at the sea.
In Hastings Castle, dead as history,
French day-trippers will tread me into mud.
Scatter me here, I say, and they agree –
after my body passes through the flame,
and once, once only, I’ll burn without pain.
My last baby
lived ten weeks
Just a flutter
of fragile life.
The doctor laughed.
You can’t feel it! he said
in a feminine voice,
It’s too small, a pearl.
And he smiled
squeezing my arm.
Then my baby was born,
not in a water’s flow
but in a river of blood:
the red each mother fears.
It was like labour:
the rush in the taxi, bags packed
with clean clothes.
The hospital bed, the nurse
and the slow emptying.
But there was nothing at the end.
No baby’s cry, no hungry mouth.
A nurse cleared up
the mess of flesh and blood,
then asked permission
to check for matter.
I agreed then saw her face.
Something important had been allowed.
Alone on a clean white sheet I rested,
then stood to wash, and to prepare
a tidy self for the public world
with all raw flesh concealed.
That was when I saw my baby,
small as a walnut, lying on the bed,
last to be born, waiting for this
I took a tissue and cradled
the baby, tried to understand
which could be the arms.
They were all wrong, this
was large enough to feel
inside, as life fluttered
with delicate hopeful wings.
Then I closed the tissue
gently, like the blankets on a cot,
and we were both ready.
You will not be dissected, little one,
or analysed. You are not matter.
You are my third child.
I have three children.
We hurried on,
past the washed-out sign
with its painted finger pointing
TO THE BEACH.
Expectant, seeing only bees
hover in the wild broom’s glow,
shouldering the lane narrow.
Over a ridge we found the sea
caught in the glare of a white sunrise:
desolate except for gulls
and one windswept walker,
whose dog circled then
flung itself at the sea
as she hurled a javelin stick.
Hearing our voices
they mounted the far path,
diminishing along the cliff’s edge
that winds towards Pwllheli.
The cove, a primitive confessional,
demanded each must approach in turn.
Our entry banished her.
To our other side, sheer rock
where the sea crashed foam
house high, while at our feet
harmless waves lapped feebly
at worm casts. Land enclosed us –
even on the sea’s horizon
shadow mountains curved
completing Cardigan Bay.
I’d taken worry but left it
there, absorbed by stones.
And wondered what passed between
my sons’ palms and the pebbles
they selected with care and tossed,
watchful, into the sea.
Or the rocks they heaved between them
and unburdened into pools.
Wordlessly they planted
stones pointing up, in circles
like nests of dinosaur eggs.
Then searched for crabs
or starfish, finding only
empty mussel shells, a tangled
fishing net, a branch
licked white and smooth
as a femur lacking its skeleton.
They brought away two rocks,
large as my hands – one grey,
one pink and blue, veined
like a newborn’s transparent skin.
If I hold them to my cheeks
the cold seeps through
and remains like a taste in my mouth.
Better than a conch they summon up
the bite and smell of the wind
from a slate blue sea;
a lone figure vanishing on the cliff;
the pained yelp of the gulls.