instead of a visit, I am standing in the kitchen
phone in one hand cheery teacup in the other
listening to my friend
and taking a mental snap
as the final brushstroke of the artwork
framed in the window through the lace-patterned net
with its curvy pleats rolling along nicely
falls into place
where a black cat with white cheeks
has parked in front of the nearside front wheel
of the bright blue Corsa in the driveway
watching across the street as though
anything might happen any minute now
and across the street
framed in his window
a tall man holding a long glass caught
in mid-sweep down to the sofa holds still
to watch the cat watching across the street
as though anything might happen
any minute now and I am watching
and listening knowing
the boy from three doors down
coming home on his scooter will frighten the cat
who will scoot behind the Corsa and duck away
under next door’s fence into the alley
and the tall man
with the long glass will resume his sweep down
onto the sofa and now
the boy has shot through
the frame and I am listening and watching
the empty street just as though
any minute now’
something innocent this way comes.
No learned cynicism, no imminent threat.
See it as some long-haired girl not tanned yet
looking to do some good in the world.
Maybe she wants to be a paramedic.
Bike it in fast to where only a bike can get.
She wants to save a body at least
if not a soul.
Let it be catching. Let it come to us all
like an infection.
Let it be this Local
as the saints and angels
of our every day.
We are the cells it needs
to go viral.
poem 1 from sequence The Last Parent:
She nearly died…
… lay comatose for weeks, Dad or I always with her
through visiting times
and when they called us in to ask ‘What if?’
we had no doubt we knew her mind.
“Let her go.” we said, “She won’t want to be revived.”
She nearly died…
… then, making would-be murderers of us both, leapt out
from that dread place and came alive.
For three years more, we played her games:
Yahtzee, cribbage, count. She made us laugh.
She was as she had always been – a sharp wit,
a lit fuse, intensely aggravating. And she kept control.
Strict diet of exactly what she wanted when; her nightly glass
that tended to a tumblerful of brandy, gin.
Incomprehensible to us, the complex schedule of her medication,
those unnavigable names that she reeled off as easily
as all her favourite flavours of ice cream – she knew their natures,
their conflicts, every bit as well as children knew
their theropods and pterosaurs, and seemed to love them
much the same. Until the will to want gave out.
We managed well enough. Her oxygen, ventilator, nebulizer –
their idiosyncrasies revealed themselves to us.
I gained the bonus of her gratis years. And though it seemed to me
I’d shouldered more than a daughter’s share of the load,
it is his dying that makes me see the overwhelming duty
fell on him. He is the last. Both himself and the receptacle
for all that others miss of his lost wife. And with his going,
I lose them both; I leave the ward with the legacy
of those final decisions I made for him –
the how and when to let him go.
His nurses have been kind. Soon the Medical Certificate
will evidence his death – mark the point where relationship
steps aside, administrative process shifts into its place.
They try to not-watch me leaving.
What should I do now?
poem 2 from sequence The Last Parent:
At such a time, you must divide yourself
into separate parts.
One part is allowed to feel the loss.
The other must substitute clubs for hearts.
The one is permitted to fall apart.
The other must keep itself intact
and so must initiate divorce –
it is the other who will take charge,
will have no use for a weaker part.
The weaker part will tug along
on a slackening/tightening string.
The process will run its course.