Last night I saw my brother float away,
his ashes in a boat we’d made
from tissue-paper and bamboo.
He shilly-shallied on the first few waves
as if he didn’t want to go,
as if he wasn’t keen on such black water.
In some of the rehearsals,
the boat had come back to us,
curving round in a huge arc to the shore.
We’d practised for months
using sugar then sand then gravel,
refining the shape,
adding a keel,
adjusting the pin-hole so it would sink
in five to ten minutes.
My brother’s daughters
carried him down to the lake,
cradling him in turn,
placed a candle inside to light his way.
It was dusk
when they let him go.
The back of the house doesn’t see you
walk up the path, nor does my father
who has waited by the dustbins nightly for weeks
to catch us together.
When he thought we were kissing
he would bang on them,
tell me to come in straight away,
the house needed to be locked.
The house wasn’t worried.
It liked the feel of us
crushed between ivy and porch,
making a nest in your duffel coat.
The windows approved of us,
our wobbling reflections,
the way we moved together
letting moonlight touch both our faces at once.
Now the door welcomes you with a big red smile.
The step has warmed itself specially.
We sit there in the sun,
spooning frothy coffee into each other’s mouths
while my father and briefcase are at work.
The house winks as my mother pulls down a blind
then lets it up again. A bird flies off the roof
and settles on my hair.
When I came here last, I was young.
Uncle Jack brought me in his boat.
He rowed for a while, then I rowed.
The water was helpful,
the oars moved easily through it.
When we got here, the shore was covered
with small shells, many broken.
We broke more with our feet
Uncle Jack took off his shoes.
The sun went down in a skirt of red
as we sat on a bench. I wanted to skim stones
but Uncle Jack said sit a bit.
Up close, he stroked my back,
said I was a good girl,
slipped his fingers under my shirt.
The blue of the lake turned grey as my socks.
He took off his coat.
It said Pure New Wool on the breast pocket
where he slid his glasses.
My mother was shy,
my father was shy,
I am shy.
Everywhere I look for shyness,
catch it in the flick-fin eyes of fishermen
or the lowered gaze of mariners
who run away to sea to be shy because
the sea, though you would not know it,
is very shy. Its waves hide behind each other
when bold feet come splashing.
The wind is shy but birds are not shy.
Brassnecked, they fly where they please
and the wind, being shy, has no idea
how to shoo them away.
On the whole, animals are not shy
with the exception of horses—
so insanely shy, they shie from everything.
Hiding inside their glossy coats,
forced over jumps and along busy roads,
all they want is to be back in their meadows.
I met an executioner once.
He was extremely shy.
He hid behind his black mask,
wore black gloves on his shy fingers,
whispered to me that he was sorry
but he had a job to do.
In a little while, he said,
you will walk on the sea shore
among the calm, clear pebbles
who are the unshy eyes of the dead.
all poems featured on this site remains with the