We gather each day in this circle, I know everyone’s slippers by heart.
The liturgy of tartan, fluffy and sheepskin, begins with confession,
a suitcase of letters and cards she never opened, the child she
abandoned, his lost dream of seeing elephants in Africa. They offer
losses like chocolates. I suck on the hard centre of her accident,
swallow it whole, wanting to cry a tsunami of tears to wash it away.
I don’t, but he does, weeps like the child they never wanted,
utters his unspeakable nickname, how his stomach was broken by boots,
word, flesh and blood become one. A mother-shaped hole in the room
gapes in the elusive light of winter sun, but no mother moves to fill it.
We breathe, simple as trees, but not as useful, as our father, the nurse
passes the cup with our pills, pierces the blue brocade of our arms.
He stinks of the smoking we’re not allowed to do, his inspiration.
She starts humming the tune called Slane. He says, Shut up, will you,
this isn’t church, you know. Except it is, I want to say but I’m the one
who never speaks. Be Thou My Vision sounds in the chapel of my head,
one of my hands comforts the other as words fly away, try to escape,
rise up and beat their wings like doves against the locked windows.
Willows never forget how it feels
to be young. William Stafford
A single rowing boat moves slowly through
the silted shallows of a river once welcoming
ships of the world. Your name was a byword for tin
and abundance – now the guidebook calls you
‘much decayed’, a place for walking old dogs,
antique shops and early closing. How
does it feel when history has harvested
the best of you – to be a basket of memories
too long for the living? All around, willows bend,
graceful in their sleepy fullness. Lazy ripples
fade away. Nothing is ever as it was –
these passing ghosts, my sad, reflected face
in stilling waters and, on my fingers,
the unexpected tang of salt.
The theatre’s full of the hard-to-hear chatter
of lost boys describing
toys no one will buy them for Christmas
Some boys get lost when they are so little
no one’s yet pinned a name on them –
they disappear in the hot flame
of a hospital furnace
along with bandages, diseased kidneys
love-filled blood from their mother
Some have names but never know them
warm, well-fed and teddied
they drift away to wherever it is they want to go –
forget to wake up. Childhood’s a big country –
boys want to map it as soon as they can –
toddling towards the sheen of a deep pool
pointing a cocked gun at their brother in fun
Some boys lose themselves from the inside out –
once strong bones eaten by ice
Boys who think they know where they’re going
on the throb of a motorbike can, in an instant
turn into flowers at the road side –
cauls of cellophane holding the rain.
Mothers dream of fleeing cruel kings, boys held firm
in their arms – while, on stage
the boys lose themselves in flight, up and away
wild as the wind in bare trees and the heavy curtain
falls over and over again.
In spite of hats, coats and candles, we’re cold and fear
is in the frosty air: for our own health, that of others,
for the planet, our families, businesses and love affairs,
paintings or projects. We’re afraid of moving and changing,
the process by which butterflies leave the chrysalis,
a new-born baby first cries, tearing open her lungs.
Stagnating’s not an option. Time taunts us: the ticking clock
mocking our bodies, no longer young, a slow decoupling
from our sister moon. We walk in silent meditation round
the high, granite-strewn pool, seeing, as we step with care,
a frill of thin ice form in the reeds along the edge, watch,
amazed, as Rosie suddenly sheds all of her clothes. She dives,
spine curved in a crescent, breaks the black water, sending
courage, like a scatter of stars, up into the still January air.
*LWA is a granite-quarrying area of Cornwall