Bow Glacier, Banff, Canada

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Absence in landscape made by millennial crawl
Bow back fills with air
the spaces
Minuscule, obscured
the valley torn asunder
Intelligent design?
Air shaped memories
shades of light
patches of dark grief
Pick out the details:
that patch of yellow diamond, those
Caravaggio peaks
Muscular grounds, weaker than Bow,
always passing through

Thinness of air and I am at Cogne
My sister tries to skip in the snow.
Sliding on my bum and skis into my Dad
My mother’s brave and terrified technique
Grief is the shape of a valley
the air of dying thin
at altitude our absent ancestors reside

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Siblings

1.
The colour of the ceiling
Artex swirls which revolve if the drip has been off can sometimes be as many as six colours at once
Not only colours
Shades too: green, white, a little rose, hint of blue, off white behind, yellow white at different times of day
The six colours vary. That is, they vary when I see that far
Carer arrives, their names change but their hands are always cold
As she lifts me, I am taken by a wave
The board beneath my feet feels firm
My arm muscles strain, I must turn
I have never seen the bed sores on my back but I imagine them as gradual, inch by inch, decay
Like the compost heap in my garden
My prize winning raised beds
I hope Barry has been weeding them right up to the lawn
The edges of my body are giving up
Each cell has fought so long
Now they surrender

2.
The board swings back towards the sun, it blinds me for a second, the sail drops
I pull back with every bit of my free arm pulling
I am upright and suddenly still
The water glistens, the Greek sea, warm, warm sun, a fresh gust, I am nineteen
My body rests again on the scabs, the sheet of the mattress, plastic cover
The mattress itself has moved little
They should turn it
The scabs are searching for a new resting place, to settle back again
The cover moves, the cushions behind are warm
These is a faint smell from outside
I feel the pollen in the air
My geraniums must be flowering by now
And the apple blossom
Will live and die without me ever seeing them
The drip is turned up, the wind lofts
Fills the sail, suddenly, very quick now, skimming the aqua green sea
Across the slow moving waves
Steer into the wind to pick up speed
My muscles feel surer
I adjust my feet, toes dig in, knees bend a little
I arc my spine forwards once more
Bend my knees a little more
My spine holds on to my board
My spine holds
The scabs achieve their place, become peaceful
Mum will be here soon and the next job will be to eat

3.
I am thirty four
The colours have shifted again
Six more shades, none the same
Barry looks in
Says something I do not catch
The radio is on, Radio Four
I push a word across my mouth, keeping one side closed it emerges, and then another, slower
“Turn it up”
The carer leans in. I smell her sweet perfume and soap
Like the Jasmine by the shed
Has it been cut back?
What time of year is it?
What month?
Perhaps on Gardeners Question Time
“What dear?”
“Turn it up”
Small salvia drip onto my neck
She has not noticed
It will dry there
The stems of my roses reminded me of spines
4.
I need to tack round against the swell
And head back towards the beach
The wind has changed yet again and suddenly there is the swell
I’m going over, inevitable
Board tips up and throws me off into the sea
Tied on, so I pull the board back, re-board
Dad’s on the beach with the camera
Better take the board in carefully, give Dad a good shot.
The sun is behind him
The picture will be good

5.
The archers over time for medication
There is an itch now at the base of my spine
Like my wet bikini with sand in
My spine that mocks me everyday
A tingle like a slight pain
Just where I cannot reach it
When I move back the scabs again will shift
The itch will be forgotten
The spit has dried
There are as many shades of pain as colours on my ceiling
Some are constant, remain through each day
Some are special visitors
I can measure days, months, years, out, in terms of the quality, texture, name and location of the pain.
A grand tour of my body’s self-destruction
Planned and carried out by my bloody spine
But I try not to. It is, as it is
There are seasons within seasons in this room
But they are all the same
Nothing seems to grow in here
There is no warm sea
Only the urine bag

6.
One day the first bud came through
I was in my chair
It was just peeking through the surface of the soil to greet me!
The garden was taking shape
“Mum put that by the pond”
“Turn around the chair”
“Good”
“Can you put the compost in the greenhouse?”
“Shall we enter?”
“Yes, of course”
“Well then we need to work harder”
“What about the raised beds?”
“Let’s plan it out”
Every project to keep the spine in place
How?
Now the morphine is my only project

7.
When was that, my last trip in the chair?
When I was….
The Archers is over
Two hours to tea time
Four hours to Mum time
Carer on her break
The hole in the day, the hour of fullest despair
Will I make it to forty?
I could call someone
Or someone could come
One of the children
My fingers seem cold
Let me remember my spine
Each segment in turn
And try to decide once and for all, which one gave me all this
The itch is back
The shades are at six times six now
Shadows over more
My board is drying in the sun
Dad will frame the picture
My flowers one day will bloom
I will never again leave this room

Shadow

we take our first step
we learn to walk
i walked into to you

her impossible skin
in the cream smell
of the sun tanned arms
returned
there are only second acts
we do not see the first
traces of the smell returns
her leg
that first moment held
i saw hannah
her body red
neon strip light refracted 
light her matted hair from behind
it was a moment
as the bullet through barrel pulls
the kinetics of life
the exhaust
her face squashed perfect
looked at me
her eyes opened
liquid slipped through
there was nothing else
i was the first she saw
the impossibility of her
the cost of first sight
i will grow older
and face the shudder
the turn away
hannah’s shadow grows
and in the silent silos
only ourselves sit beside her
and stroke her head
at last we are alone
father and mother
encrusted iced continents
and so hannah grows.
now i take my first step
I learn to walk
I watch the reflection of me
become focussed
and i find you
what if i had missed you
and floated on
into stone
i shudder
that tiny shadow
grows and lengths
now
her impossible resemblance
echo of my sister, my niece
in cycles
so her girl will have a girl
will she return?
no matter is created
nor destroyed
claudia is reborn
her energy to become
her sense of self returns
impossible like hannah’s shadow
finales written in hope
when you become whole
lifetimes are changed in form.

Dementia Triptych

1.

Legs slide over the edge of bed

Trousers pulled on

Shirt begin to button

Inside the fold of her skirt I suddenly sit

Sit in my home

In the maze of the fabric I am searching for her

Lost, alone

Button my shirt

Birthing me she dressed me for life

Laying my head on her breast

I remember too the soft cheek

But these pleats engulf me now

Deeper into the folds

She is there walking alone

On swollen knees

Scarping the wall to brick in anger

Dancing lightly on her toes

I pull a jumper over my head

Blinded I am in her darkness

I hide from the promises

We speak of her safety

Of the company she needs

Would she leave me alone?

2.

There are places that a child should never see

Secret folds of skin

The first place I saw in life

The spaces between us should be kept

The raw red sore beneath

And then

The crystalline sound of aluminium foil

Pushed through

In variety of shapes, sizes, colours

Purposes

Damian Hirst shelf in my mother’s kitchen

Aspirin to dissolve

The pill pouch like the folds of her tummy

Needed simple care

I stroke her forehead

She is hot

I am feverish

She makes me smile

The glass of water, cold

For these moments all life and death are here

All memories are condensed into this dead of night

We wait the life of morning

There are lives of carers that we do not want to live

You can see too much as you try to fix things

And all the past is wiped clean in that sight

It is the nudity that shows the helplessness of flesh

That you cannot walk by

There can be a gown which flips open

There can be unanswerable questions repeated

And slowly all surfaces are covered

With crayon landscapes and the walls become paper

The frontiers of the world close in

The meaning of a cardigan recedes into the impenetrable

It is a skirt

I can wear it as a skirt

What is a skirt?

I feel my anger rising, why can’t you understand?

I snap

I am angry at the impenetrable

The crystalline sound of aluminium relieves

Until it doesn’t

I cannot be here now seeing this naked body needing care

I cannot fix this

I see the veins strain in her swollen knee

Her legs that carried me

I embrace her and want to see her covered up

Her face so familiar I cannot describe it

The lines of my life in each fold

I cradle it now in my hands

“If you love me let me die”

There are places that a child should never see.

3.

She is free

She is cycling

Her skirts fly

She laughs

She is a girl

She lies down

Listens to the RAF bombs

She is escaping

She is wearing her apron

Packing cakes

Giving birth

She is doing the accounts

Colouring her hair

Replacing our garden fence

She is the soul

She watches her husband die

Slowly in their bed

He is cold

She watches her daughter die

More slowly in the hospital bed

Without losing faith

She holds it all

She is the sun

She fades in twilight

She sits in church and cries

Making her hand bleed

She remembers how to dance

She is on her bike

She is free

Bagged

What slender lines the river seems to hold

Flashing past on my way home

From home

Vermeered yellow patch this landscape less than whole

The snow at Cogne

Our fortunes in the bar foretold

Cycling to school the houses rushed past

Declan laughing at Janet and John books

Fingers stained with ink

Dungeon and Dragons our world

The chain off greased back at just past Kings Park

Pushing back on the cog with greased fingers cold

Discovering and losing so much

The salt on the wind

The decay of childhood into silences

Trying to keep hold of the sofa nap

Wanting so much to know

Making love and trying to keep

The feeling within and the women that i hold

Then

My children bounce on my bed to play

And after seconds they take themselves away

My sister’s life in mine the memory dissolves

Our lives as fleeting as this view

His clothes we bagged up and they sat alone

Airless, preserved

The twine unravelling over time

The memory of him

Slowly frayed

Grief decomposes over time

In sorting out a damp basement

The bags uncovered

Ripped plastics, his jacket spilled out

In part now rotten with damp

As surely as his corpse was made

Into nothingness before heaven

I cannot put his body back into these suits and coats

I cannot clasp now the sounds he made

The final stage of death

When new grief replaces old

His death displaced

His cuffs, his sleeves, his trousers legs

Somehow, betrayed by time

The darkness comes

When I am all alone

I look for something to hold onto

Finally, I find you

One Morning

We have one morning on this earth.

I woke on mine.

The sound track of my adolescence,

breaking on my insecurity across the sands of Bournemouth,

and smelling like the salty taste of Maria Costello’s mouth -

I did not know how to kiss – is the sea.

Passed Our Lady Queen of Peace,

by the cross roads,

the back drop,

to failed fumbling with bra straps

racing time and discovery,

was our beach hut.

That church, sat between me and freedom,

condemned me to even failing at solitary ejaculations,

held the altar that I served on.

John Wheaton’s elder brother had such singular purpose and stamina,

in all confessionals held

late at night on the roof of Toft,

the Bay below,

Dad’s homemade wine and our rolled cigarettes,

Feeding other peoples’ exploits, never my own.

It was well known, that my mind became like so much seaweed if a girl was with me.

And later,

I did not see them take his body from his bed.

I saw only the corpse of my father, a stranger.

Then: when I no longer cycled to Christchurch to open the shop on a Sunday,

and the sound of the tube replaced the sound of the sea,

and Delia invited me to her flat in Finsbury Park,

with the love notes from her ex still on the fireplace surround,

then all the secrets unfolded and in all these discoveries,

in the relentless drive to do.

So I took a twenty five year journey away from You,

and comfort,

and knowing how to be.

Each morning the beach is remade, smooth, virgin soil, redemption in a landscape.

Each morning the tube leaves empty and the mass of humanity moves from one place to another to earn a life worth living.

We trust in their repetition.

The sound of breaking waves,

my children asleep,

my wife sitting reading,

the sound of the breaking waves asked then, how should you live?

They still ask, who do you want to be?

And gradually we are alone again.

Amid the clutter and the chaos of my sister’s death, I remember most of all her faith.

My mother crying on the phone, her mind is going:

Can I go back to God?

Will he take me?

We have one morning on this earth.

We need to know how to use it.

The Cusp


From Table Mountain, 1200 feet, five valleys

Slopes of fields enclosed by English planted hedges

Verdant, lush, rain soaked: summer has finally turned green.

The clouds shadows pass across the sky bringing deluge

These drowned months have kept the butterflies away

In the cloudy darkened corners of the farms

Their wings are silent.

As every gully floods, streams as torrents flow, so my daughter walks ahead

She skips off from the path

Her long hair platted

Over the hood of her hoody

Her long legs darting

She clambers up the overgrown slope, then stops

“I don’t want to get my hands dirty”

But, she must reach the top.

The teenage cusp.

In sunlight passage rushing up

Her smile is of a little girl

In shady moments, keeping clean, the woman appears.

The slope is climbed.

The hands remain clean.

The cusp remains unnegotiated.

My butterfly daughter has certainly appeared

Her unrivalled beauty, objectively observed, and

Perfect markings

Her force of nature flying endlessly

From waking to sleeping

Her power of immeasurable depth

The character

Both statuesque like her physique,

and knowing like she plays games,

but also limpet and ungroomed around the edges,

blend in this space, this mass

of her unquenchable being

only this light a butterfly

could sit so long

between these complex worlds

and still be happy.

Wales, 20th July 2012

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