He tried to talk to me
again, then sprinkled his fingers over the sink
in a kitchen that no longer smelled of smoked mackerel
and toast, his hands plump fish pushing down,
down through the dishwater. My father stood stooped
as if searching for a lost wedding ring, wiping knives
with a cloth and left them, filmy with rainbows, to dry.
You see, this wasn’t his kitchen,
the crumbed beech of the worktops, tea-stained linoleum
left somewhere, stuffed in our history, a two-year co-habitancy
slabbed underground with the heft
of her expensive slate. She loomed behind him, round as Venus,
burning candles through the musk of tarragon and lamb,
tiny lemon puddings in glass ramekins.
It seemed to me she came quietly, at first, a shiny blue shoe
skewed in the hallway, the faint scent of Jo Malone Red Roses
ghosting in his bedroom, then all of a sudden
her shadow lumbered across every wall, swept up the crumbs
of his kitchen, dragged him like Hector through the dust
of our two-bed house. She eyed me
and kissed his neck hard, drowning his voice like Scylla
swallowing Odysseus, the whirlpooling silence between us.
(Inspired by the works of Dylan Thomas)
She married in this pouring place,
saint carved and sensual among the scudding
base of the familiar sky–
up through the lubber crust of Wales
and the golden pavements laid in requiems.
I am the long world’s gentleman, he said.
The studded male in a bent, midnight blaze
scaled a hailing hill in her cold flintsteps,
showed her a picture of Boston Harbour
and how summer looked in Ireland.
He knew every story from the beginning
of the world, the moon-chained
and water-wound metropolis of fishes,
the oil and bubble of the moon.
Winter-locked, side by side,
her hair had fallen untidily
and three of the buttons of her dress
had come undone. Thirty-five bells
sung struck and he said his prayers to it,
knees bent on the blackened twigs,
huge weddings in the waves. His naked need
struck him howling and bowed
twined in a moon-blown shell, gazing
through the smashed windows at the sea.
Always goodbye, cried the voices from the shell,
her deepsea pillow where once she married,
old paper blowing by them–
strangers now huddled against the wall,
their cigarettes sparkling, hands by their sides.
I write her a postcard to tell her
how I am. Not a real postcard–
the back of a coffee-ringed photo
of the pair of us, the same lemon dresses,
snuffling ice cream cones on the wall
in the wild chill of Devon.
In the mornings the bullish sun
heaves through everything, shatters
the greasy mirror, sour laundry,
with daylight I do not ask for.
A bottle of stolen make-up
she’d left dribbing on the sink,
her bracelets I thumb like rosary.
A towel sags on the doorframe
and I suck my pen trying to think.
Here, the windows have been locked
since she swung them out,
chain-smoking into the breeze.
A ribbon of chemical blues.
I write my first sentence,
I’m doing fine
and do not mention
her bedroom walls crumbling around me,
my suddenly oversized jeans
or the housefly buzzing, hysterical,
butting its skull to get out.
Today she feels the wet coil of her brain, synapses
frazzled to smokey violets. White volts. She twists her body
to the window, taps the purled rain, every hair bristling
the scoop of her neck. A panic attack on the bus.
Her old wool gloves have acquired
an entirely new shape, reminiscent of dead birds.
The bus hisses to a halt. She can smell already
a wreck of overstuffed ashtrays, clothes,
curled magazines. Dirty dishes left by the bed.
Here, the moon won’t go home in the morning,
swings it’s white eye to the pavement where a bag
keeps rolling about, small as a smacked gull.
Her phone trembles in her fist, brings her back
as she lifts the brass key, calls “Mam.”
in a winter kitchen, stiff
and girlish, slurping steamy clots
of hot gravy. The wet mush
of my sister’s chew.
I am waiting
for you. You, rain-blistered,
with a newspaper tucked in your armpit,
carton of milk in your fist.
Pennies dazzling your pockets.
The engine killed on the drive.
Perhaps I am waiting
for the beery breeze of your shirt
zigzagged in all the wrong buttonholes,
the wonky smile
which makes you a stranger
in the wet window,
the dog circle you like a moon.
We are waiting,
pecking peas from our forks,
your gravied plate clamming
like an hour-old wound,
what could have been
so unbearable homely
it had you tumbling out
under streetlamps, flailing
like an ancient baby
with even the dog crying behind you,
licking grimly at your fork.
We were always shouting down telephones
from separate rooms. I press my nose
to the mouthpiece, draw out the stale breath
of small talk. Wait for you to answer.
The red walls shrink down to a telephone box
after every heated conversation. In the debris,
we tug wires across the bed, disconnect the lines
with umbilical precision. Hang up
with a practiced knife-thrust.
Robotic, she tells me to leave a message,
a cluster of awkward words
you will shoulder to your ear whilst you dress.
I hesitate, hold the phone like a gun.
I gather my words. I can’t say one.
I suppose this is being adults. Slim candles.
Oysters, coughed out like clots of phlegm
from filthy shells. Perhaps you think you’ll
seduce me with the float of your brow,
the thin smile above your collar starch
you’ve practiced in the mirror. Tip champagne
down your throat and pretend to like it.
Swallow a belch. You make some vague comment
about French wine, Provence, Bordeaux,
you might have once seen on a classroom map
or your mother’s trolley, her frizzed hair
drifting like cumulus through the aisles.
The menu purrs, du, de la, like a fly
stuck fast in the laminate, swimming on a plate
of foie gras, bouillabaisse. Look at you,
a connoisseur at last, sticky as boiled ham
in your high street shirt. I swallow a mouthful
and swill it around my tongue. You blush.
I do not pretend to taste grapefruit, pamplemousse,
crushing in the winepress grapes of Champagne,
the sputtering Veuve-Clicquot.