A Stray
When I heard the voice on the radio
All of a sudden announcing the captives were free
I was holding my young cousin
Forcibly down with two arms
Gripping him back from the street
Where he wanted to flatten himself
Under the wheels of the cars
I waited for the shot to work
And tried to make out what he had been wearing
Half-recognizing shreds of denim,
An old velvet shirt of my own.

Next week the men were back
Bigger than we remembered
Sitting shakily in the kitchen –
The table a midden of crumbs and documents –
Getting up in the long silences
To carry a cup to the sink
And wash it very carefully.

He stayed upstairs all May.

In June when the raspberries were in
They started to help with the picking
And after that the apples –
They spent days up the ladders
And let us get on with the cooking.
We sat long evenings outside.
But he would not work in the orchard
Or eat with us at meals.

And so it remained, long after
We were used to the loud voices
Hollowing from the fields –
He jumped when he heard them.

You’d find him an odd time smoking
In the courtyard by the bins
At the foot of the steep back stairs

And our liberation never
Reached him. He lived on
Like the last of a whole people
Astray on a lost domain
Bearing all their privations:
No gin and tonic, no
Aspirin, just willow tea.
No tin-openers, no mules, no buses,
No Galician, no Methodists,
No fruit but rotten powdery imploded oranges,
No news from the prison cells.