At length, we found them in a noisome byre:
Unregistered, swathed in crawling rags,
The she soiled in the fundament of her parturition.
The father, such as we supposed, babbled
In a tongue out from the North. We beat him
South, East and West, until he learnt our manners.
The mother, suffice to say, kept schtum
As we worked upon her man, though she clung
To her spawn so tight, it took a punch to wrest
It from her breast. We gave each one a number,
Drove them to the edge of town, and sent them packing.
‘There is nothing new underneath the sun’
Or so old Ecclesiastes says.
We’re keeping it that way.
Chlorophyll breaks down
But carotene persists,
Thus, green gives way to yellow.
In the end the humus holds
What’s left of summer light.
No need for mystery
Or prick-songs lauding perennial
Decay: the Earth tilts on it axis
By 23 degrees. The light sways
From one pole to the other.
That is all. True sight resists
Analogy. The buzzard satellites
Its prey and not your watching
Eye. The sky its own circumference.
I forget the face of Martin Guildere, but I remember his fingers and the back of his head. He is tying my shoelaces in a blue corridor. He has become a metaphor for my own childhood physical awkwardness, framed in my mother’s eyes. ‘Martin Guildere!’, who had learning difficulties (although I can’t remember the details). When Martin is not in the blue corridor, he is in a red room behind a glass wall – designated ‘the unit’. In the unit he wears a beige, NHS hearing aid. ‘Martin’ – who I had to ask to tie my shoelaces. A whispered secret. He is sat, facing the wall in the punishment corner of my memory. He will not show his face.
I forget the precise location, but we are a family and we are bringing a Christmas Tree home. I am two years old. It is Canada. ‘Canada’ is contained in a photograph in our red family album. I forget whether this memory is a memory of an actual event, or a memory of a photograph. ‘Canada’ is a poorly lit scene in which the grey-blue snow rhymes with my navy snow suit. My mother’s voice returns to remind me that I was quite capable of dressing myself in the snow suit and didn’t need Martin Guildere. In ‘Canada’ I am possessed with a physical prowess that I would lose in a blue corridor. However, this idea is not supported by the image: I am prone on a wooden sledge. In Canada, my arms are raised in exasperation; a pinched, toddler face pleads with the camera. Feet kick at the grey-blue air. I can still smell the faux-leather cover of the album.
I forget my mother’s voice. I can place it’s characteristics somewhere near the heavier Cumbrian of my Aunt Mary, but there’s always going to be something intangible about sound. It’s odd, because I can vividly recall many physical details: her eyes: slightly mischievous, slightly melancholic; the way she bore herself with a strangely self-effacing dignity; a teenager, miscast in the school play, appalled and thrilled by the knowledge that we are watching. You can see this is in the only video clip I possess of her. It’s Christmas. She is holding our baby daughter in her arms in a yellow room. She wears a red Santa Hat, and slightly rosy cheeks. ‘I am sixteen’ from The Sound of Music is playing in the background, to which my Mother mimes / sings (inaudibly). My daughter is 4 months old. My Mother: 64. She rocks from side to side, smiling, removes her glasses, and barely takes her eyes off our daughter. She is not ignoring the camera, but then, neither is she performing. She is absorbed, self-contained. The sequence is thirty seconds long.
April 11th 2013
An old woman who
And lives in a barrow
Raised from the bones
Of forgotten children.
Neither the candles,
Nor her pewter cups
Nor the greased
Soles of her sandals
Can bear the sight of her
And flee to the fringes
Of her field of vision.
Each morning at her toilet,
She scolds her comb
For harvesting her hair
And wrings her handkerchief
Until it weeps salt tears
And lets a thread of mercury
Crawl from her breast
To the barometer on the wall
Where it lies about the weather.
All year she has been waiting
For her nemesis: some tit-less
Wonder from the surface
With eyes like walking on the moon,
And skin that’s only fit for swaddling,
Sent on some useless errand
For thread or murder – both,
Most likely. ‘Is it not enough,
To have become this?’ spits
Our witch. As if the final
Indignity lies not in wizened
Chicken bones or a kitchen
That laughs behind your back,
But this- to lapse entirely
Into parable, as if this ruin
Was a book of hours, passed
Between breathless virgins
Side-eyeing their way through mass.
These toys of childhood never last.
The thumbed page of the doll’s eye
Rolls to a bald centre.
This is a parable of loss and care.
How one thing left to lie in light
Fades and flakes with age
Yet seems a miracle. You feel
Your small griefs welling
At its throat: the hands of
Those that handled you, long gone,
Stowed this in the loft,
Trove for your discovery.
It seems a world turned upside down
And when it tilts, it cries.