In the Beginning
You existed for months as an echo
bouncing off darkness and silence,
then changed yourself at a glance
to the delicate bones of a kipper
dandled to and fro
in the waves of a sunless ocean
before shouldering into the world
with a crown blobbed like a bird’s egg
and indigo stampers’ feet
but nothing about you a fragment
more or less than perfect,
even though putting my face
up to your face for a kiss
meant that I caught the broken
panicking roar of your heart,
and heard, for the very first time,
the sound of my own heart falter,
One of Those Things
On the day that our boy was born
– the very same morning, in fact –
I left him beside his mother,
drove dizzily out of the hospital,
stopped at a grill-covered shop,
bought my paper, went home and read –
after I’d shaved and bathed and dozed
for an hour or two in a stupor of joy
greater than any I’d known before,
or expect to know ever again – the story
of how an amusing, charming, clever
and now inconsolable man was one day
leading a more or less blameless life
and the next was in desperate fear.
He thought he was getting the flu.
He was put to bed, and four days later
escaped to be caught in a cab
by his terrified wife, unable to think
what his address might be, or his name.
The hospital, then – and every day since –
to discover his memory worked
just well enough to remind him
his memory no longer worked.
Give him the washing-up: no trouble –
each plate that he takes is the first.
Give him a long afternoon to sleep
in the sun-strewn hospital grounds,
and every three seconds he’ll wake
to his utterly fresh despair.
Our son is a month old today,
and to celebrate woke us at 5 a.m.
of course. A dingy, rain-spattered dawn,
and the three of us lay in our big double bed
with the pig in the middle between us feeding
with slobbery, wheezy, chirruping grunts.
Because it was early, because I was tired,
because I was almost lost to the world
with love for the boy, the thought of the man
with no memory came to me (as it had come,
I should say, hundreds of times before)
nervously, slithering into my mind
like a dog on a heavy painful rope,
yet lazily, too, like a dog on a dusty day,
and stopped there: sinewy, not to be argued with,
bitter, but somehow banal, dragging behind it
other thoughts, also banal: In the midst of life ...
Those whom the gods ... The Lord taketh away ...
What do we do to deserve ... That sort of thing.
I’ve told you already, it’s come to me
hundreds of times, the thought of the stranger
prowling his tucked-away hospital room –
which means I’ve encountered him often
each day in the life of our boy,
trying to compensate one with the other,
or something like that, and never quite able
to bring them together, or make them connect,
except in a picture which hinges itself
in a triptych: the stranger on one side
stuck in a room with a single brilliant bulb,
who sees death laying its hand on his head
over and over again; in the centre, our boy,
a bundle shoved out to sea in one of those
hopeless wickerwork coracles under a furious sky;
and lastly ourselves – intelligent, petrified,
no way out of a cube of shiny steel with walls
which steadily squeeze together until we die.
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