Another strange city
in which you’ve stayed behind,
beyond the see-you-next-time promises
fixed with hugs and window kisses;
the hands-in-pocketing all stations
still like to stop and watch.
You join the scatter of singles
turning away with their books
that speak volumes; drop your gauge
from full to empty. And here is the enemy
you stayed to make friends with:
it’s time for you to court Time.
You walk apart, eyeing each other
nervously, looking for signs. It will be
as well to eat now. The Golden Dragon
is a saunter away, its bright windows
doubling as mirrors. It’s quiet enough.
You wander in and they sit you down.
The man at the next table smiles.
You make the ‘Me Too’ gesture
– the half-rise nod – and return, not
to Time, but to the little vase that has stolen
your eye, broken your uneasy truce
with Time. But time is not the enemy.
It is the tiny mountain.
The one leafless tree.
The bare existence.
It is your envy of it; your disharmony
that has brought in with it
“Can I buy the little vase?”
“No: it is old and has been brought from China.”
Can I aspire to its simplicity?
No: you are not and have not.
You eat, scrabbling for questions
that dare not have answers.
About the little vase.
About the imbalance.
You take it with you when you leave.
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.
poem 5 from sequence The Last Parent:
You’ll be surprised how much you laugh.
Confused speech, misunderstandings,
anguished faces breaking to a smile
as you trip each other up or titter over images,
incidents, you haven’t spoken of for years
as the lost dead come springing back to life –
a wily granddad, perhaps, his ‘decapitated head’
given as a ‘one-word clue’ to make his team say ‘Nobody’,
repeated each time it comes his turn; a gran who repeats
her offer of standing on the cooker, the better to lift it,
or of sitting on the bonnet, torch in hand, to let
the driver see more clearly through the fog;
a mum may jump sky-high again, as she comes eye
to eye with a black whiskery catfish, still in its bag,
hanging on the door beside her armchair. It’s OK
to tell the comic stories, as of a word misheard
that made you laugh so hard you cried, said later
you hadn’t laughed so much since your mother died.
And as the lost dead see light again for the brief time they’re allowed,
as trees need sunshine to break through the dragging cloud,
one of your insistent needs will be to laugh out loud.