April, a day off school. Indulged, bored, hungry for something new.
The road bends below Driscoll’s and I see her coming clear,
laden with shopping bags, eyes bright in the full flow of talk.
I’ve been signalling Collins Barracks on the hill across Blackpool,
morse book open on the window-sill, weighted with a cup.
Nobody answering no matter how I flash
“Help, I am being held prisoner . . .”
It sets in early, disillusion with the State, its idle soldiers.
Flash of her eyes as she greets Peg Twomey now. I scamper upstairs,
hook the bevelled mirror back in place. From the bedroom window
I see her reach the gate.
How he’d tumble downstairs, crash through the front door, taking the garden steps
two, three at a time. Up close, the strain on her face.
Tufnell Park years later, the fireflash of news in my face. The silence after.
Grooves in her fingers, released from the heavy bags, the rings –
wedding, engagement, eternity – clicking against his nails.
Remembering suddenly when she smiles that he is meant to be sick.
Slowly, backwards, up the steps, her scraps of thought and talk as she fought
For breath. Who she’d met and who had died, who was sick and who had
a new child, news from a world she waded in, hip-deep in currents of talk.
A spoon for each of us and a spoon for the pot, not forgetting to scald the pot.
What a span of such days unreeling now, my eye on them both, reaching
down through the haze to bring them back: herself and her son,
my mother and me.
Dust everywhere when they broke the news, my friends, these sudden strangers.
Dust of the Underground on my lips, dust on their newpainted window, dust
on the leaves outside, in the heavy air banked high over London town.
I stared down at their gate, a vacuum in my chest, hands clenching & unclenching.
So fluent the words, so treacherous the comfort.
Old enough to know I had failed her,
too young to know what in, too greedy for life, really, to have cared enough.
This is the ring I conjure for them, the stage for their dance.
For a child to live, his mother must die. For a man to die, his mother must live.
Here on the brink of forty, close to midnight, I conjure them all –
my brothers and sisters, my mother and father, my neighbours and friends,
the most absolute strangers of my life, my heart’s companions. Nothing
is ever lost that has shone light on simple things.
No child is without a mother, no father can lose his son,
no mother is unregarded, no sister can fail to learn,
no brother escapes unwounded, no friend can salve the burn.
The road bends out into the drunken heft of space and nothing can be lost.
Not her life’s sacrifice, not our unquenched and stubborn love,
not that child’s faith in light flashing from mirrors, on her faith in
the human flow of talk. The human flow of talk is all we have. Who we’ve met
and who is sick, who’s had a child, who’s lost a job. Her eyes flash,
he scampers upstairs, rushes downstairs, taking the steps two at a time,
feeding his heart’s hunger for life and life only. The mask of strain on her face,
the ritual of the teapot, hesitant access of heartbreak and knowledge.
I would these words could soothe the pain from her fingers,
conjure now and forever her patient grace.