Remember how she strained to keep herself alive,
cranked up in bed in that distempered hospital,
anxious for us to fetch the baby in to her;
how she held her, whispered
'take good care of her',
handing the baby back; and how that night we understood
the meaning of the blood-racket in her throat, how we
would carry home the will to keep alive whatever
happened between them, a dying woman, sleeping child,
whatever urgent interchange of
love there'd been.
Keeping my head down, I hear your voice,
but not the words,
bouncing from blue-glazed tiles.
It's not so much that I'm not listening.
Just not hearing. In deep. Not up to but over
my ears, searching the bottom for quietness
and trying to keep steady, alternating lengths
of breaststroke, crawl. I have two
mosaic dolphins down here to contemplate,
their unforced smiles, the way
like saucy lovers, of touching one another.
It's not that I don't realise
we are, and have for long, been in
this together. Now goggles off and heavier each step,
I wade out to shower, asking what you said.
For nights I have been watching Mars
climb the window, scale the gap between
fraying curtains, maintain a slow
and sure trajectory that rises out of Cheshire,
heads for splashdown in the Irish Sea.
It glides above television's fiddle-faddle
like something intended, an eye kept on things.
Each night on cue it undertakes an as-if-
scripted progress over the roofs
of Fords, Eli Lilly, St Andrew's Church.
And now into mid-September,
it's hustled down the Mersey by
puny rockets, but always staying steadfast
and unfazed. Some nights, muffled by cloud,
it journeys on behind a seamless blackness, sure as love.
God knows, we need something to rely on:
the house is a jangle of nerves, a desperate
clutter of debris, emotional dross. More winds
blow inside than out. Malicious ghosts
treat it as a home from home. It needs
slowmotioning, a star to hitch its good-will to.
TALKING WITH A DEAD MAN
What did you want?
To watch your life come hurtling back,
man gasping, clutching at rocks,
a fast-frame, last-ditch buying back?
Was it a calling-in of debts from those
whose lives made play with yours,
on which you left some shadowy print,
the need to know you'd lived
and lived to some effect?
You can't answer, can't complain
how just/unjust what I'm implying is:
perhaps that's why you had to get in first
with last goodbyes.
Talking with the dead's a glib pretence
that we can put things right some way.
You're gone nowhere and that's a place
perplexes with its blankness; there's no
reporting back from there. So why haul
back through mirrors this let's-pretend,
dig deep in the pocket for words to spend
kidding ourselves we're buying time?
So when, after a day's grim hesitation,
I acted at last on a friend's passed-on request
to phone, things were already critical,
your kidneys already cinders, your voice not just
two hundred miles away
but three-quarters down the road to somewhere else.
And when it came to saying goodbye
it sounded like what poets strive for,
words used absolutely, that can't be got rid of,
that enter space, hang about.
© Matt Simpson 2004