I didn’t notice it at first: it lay silent in a corner,
unfazed by laughter, tears, irreverence.
While I auto-piloted through a bureaucratic haze, it may
have twitched an ear, held out a paw as if saying
‘I’m still here’. It was ignored.
But as days took on new patterns, I became aware,
saw it start to grow. Before long it emerged full-size
to prowl, wrap itself round my legs or lash my arm.
Some mornings I awoke and thought it gone;
others I found its chill weight on my chest.
Weeks passed. Although I learned to lock it in the house,
at times it would escape, stalk me, grab me by the throat
so that I fought to find my voice. Time will tame it, blunt
those claws, those teeth, as everybody says.
I know, I know.
No-one knows which hospital but family history
had it on the Isle of Wight. A shaded-glass back door,
rotting wooden steps, five of them, all nip-waisted crispness.
One’s my aunt, Adelaide Marie, always known as ‘Bob’.
Scarcely seventeen, inside the starched half-halo
of her cap, she grins.
Home and belovéd piano
left behind in Chandler’s Ford, she joined the VADs.
Ever the tomboy, she must have struggled to keep
that floor-length apron clean, those stiff cuffs white.
I imagine her singing softly as she scrubbed bedpans
in the sluice, mopped between beds, smiled comfort.
But she never spoke of it.
You are my source, my stream and drift, my estuary.
I can dabble your shallows or steeple my arms
to arrow through your depths. I am the prey
of weeds that hug my limbs so that I fear
I may never rise again. But I do: gasping, elated.
Your surface glowers, even in sun, but in the deeps
there’s flash and flare. Exotic fish astonish
with their brilliance of shape and shade. Moonlight
turns your ripplings to silver foil. You roll through fields
and woods, admired, adored by millions from peasant
to Archduke to Emperor. When you broaden into sea
wave on receding wave absorbs your molecules, spreads
them to the unwoken world. Your murmuring is balm;
your surges set blood thundering. We turn to you
in peace and war; funerals, weddings, christenings
have sailed on your broad breast. At times you sing
like the brooks that nourished you, while
from Bagatelle through Solemn Mass to mighty Ninth
echoes of your influence ring down through centuries
and your genius flows on – Beethoven.
You were born with wings, why prefer to crawl through life?
My body is surrounded by white light
I lie counting breaths
my limbs feel like felled elms
my torso is weighted
sensing the beat of earth beneath the pelt
my nose is full of the mustiness of soil
sweet dryness of grass
high above there’s a whistle like a bosun’s pipe
without looking I know the silhouette
finger-tipped wings notched tail
coal bone cinnabar
my body fills with white light becomes weightless
I am floating higher higher adrift
over the meadow
over alders and poplars that lean into the river
dense blackthorn broad-beamed oaks
over rooftops pale scrawls of road
a scurrying motorway flashing blue
The white light starts to fade
grass tickles my heels
a stone prods my right shoulder-blade
I have landed.