The day after work stopped on the building
when suddenly no one knew what to call
a hammer or a nail, when parrot screeches
and the growl of wolves clashed in the Tower
– after we'd all fallen silent again and no one
was even sobbing - the next morning, Grandmother
banged a ladle on a pan, called us together.
With wide gestures she invited us to sit
and then distributed slips of paper, tucking
them into our pockets, folding the flaps, frowning.
She laid her forefinger then on her lips
and pointed upward. Haltingly in the silence
our voices answered: Cielo. Ouranos.
Himmel. Sky. She nodded, flicked her hands
dispersing us to wander off alone.
We left the tower – what did it matter now?
– and set off on the paths across the fields
and woods. Rain fell. The sun shone.
Berries were ripe. A fox, rank and bushy,
crossed the path, wordless. Among the branches
swooped shadows and the purring flight of birds.
I named and named until my head was full
– then, hungry, astonished, eager, returned home
to share my hoard of words with all the others.
Grandmother had baked bread and cooked soup.
She fed us all, listening to our jargon
and the next day sent us out in groups.
It seemed she’d listened to our dreams as well
for Aleph, Beth and Gimel came with me
and Beth’s child, who didn’t have a name.
This time we travelled further. Each halt
along the way we gathered clumps of names
quarrelling occasionally, but quickly learning
to go for something everyone could say.
Sometimes we camped in the same place for weeks
and stocked our heads with movements: stretching, stooping,
leaving, returning, sleeping, waking, kissing.
I kept with Aleph, Gimel set up with Beth
so new and subtler movements were recorded:
the branches of a tree moved like a lover,
the earth was a mother. Likeness was born.
At times we met the others, traded words
and ate new foods. One day, at last, we thought
of the folded strips of paper. They were faded
now, and hard to read. We smoothed them out
and found a single word in our old language.
It was the same on every one (and try
as we might we never recalled another).
‘Together’, it said. ‘Together’. ‘Together’.
I was elbow-deep in grease. That lamb
(in a herb crust) doesn’t exactly cook
itself. And there’s a pan to scour after.
Then the home-made bread, bitterleaf salad
(lightly dressed with oil) not to mention
figs, plums, apricots, almonds and a couple
of bottles of wine. I didn’t notice him
(or anyone) refusing second helpings
nor minding me dodging about with dishes,
spooning gravy, cutting extra bread.
After dinner, there’s our Mary sitting
literally at his feet – he has the one
comfortable chair, she’s hunched on a cushion
drinking it all in. I’m doing a quick sweep
round the kitchen, hoping to get back to the chat
half listening to them while I go on stacking
pots. Then here he is in the doorway:
‘Mary’s made the best choice,’ he says.
I stare. Is this a joke? My good lamb
hardly out of his mouth, beard stained with gravy:
‘You should prioritise more. Don’t spend so long
in the kitchen.’ And he’s on his way,
picking a thread of meat from his teeth. God.
In memory of Ted Hughes
Heard you were dead; took down your Tales from Ovid.
Hercules roared off the page, wrestling
Trees, rocks as he died; the Bacchantes
Wrenched Pentheus' sinews apart,dis-
Membering him like a chicken; softly, Midas
Drooled idiot gold, spat barren
Shadowed others, more intimate, and howled
In other forms, fangs, claws, the oily birth-
Puddle of those born dead.
You lurk, pike, otter, in the dark
Richness of my mind; the sky of four
Decades quivers with your winds and wings:
Hawk hangs overhead, or crows
Torn like black paper in the gale toss
Your words away...
I must go out,
Savour the late sun, the scattered kindle
Of leaves, breathe in a new element
That now holds you as you held it, broad-
Casts you over and over the land
Seeding us with your cells' wealth.
Seven weeks today. A July wind
is tousling the trees, rumpling the garden.
I have written five letters, washed the sheets.
A mistake somewhere – I’ve not finished
the crossword. Sit with the sounds of Sunday.
Thrashing leaves. Cows. Planes. My own breath.
All week the air has burnt: it is breath
from a lion’s mouth. No stir of wind
to brush the cheeks of the sixth Sunday:
silence quivers in the house, and the garden
shrivels, as if the season’s finished.
I sort bed linen. There are too many sheets.
A week leafed with letters. I scan these sheets
about you, half alert to hear your breath
until the words remind me that it’s finished.
So sorry to hear. Rain in the wind
hasn’t enough weight to nourish the garden.
Bells clang dryly. It is the fifth Sunday.
I wake in your presence the fourth Sunday –
not lying passive between your sheets
but laughing, striding in the summer garden
your mouth full of kisses, and your breath
sweeter and stronger than the June wind.
Why did I wake before the dream was finished?
Ready to go. I’ve nothing left unfinished
you told me once. But now beside a Sunday
river I want you here to watch the wind
curving sails, to feel the hauled sheets
as the boats put about, to taste the breath
of summer gusting down from every garden.
The second week I meet you in the garden
sitting under the oak where you once finished
fixing the swing-seat; not out of breath
but quiet and absorbed, reading the Sunday
papers, glancing up, rustling the sheets,
pinning one down that flutters in the wind.
I look out at the garden that first Sunday
when everything is finished. I smooth the sheets
and listen for your breath. There is only the wind.
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