In the latest issue:

The American Virus

Eliot Weinberger

The Home Life of Inspector Maigret

John Lanchester

Story: ‘Have a Seat in the Big Black Chair’

Diane Williams

The Last Whale

Colin Burrow

In Beijing

Long Ling

Princess Margaret and Lady Anne

Rosemary Hill

At the Movies: ‘Arkansas’

Michael Wood

Ruin it your own way

Susan Pedersen

At Home

Jane Miller

The Ottoman Conundrum

Helen Pfeifer

Poem: ‘Muntjac’

Blake Morrison

Piketty’s Revolution

Geoff Mann

Short Cuts: In Tripoli

Jérôme Tubiana

Coetzee Makes a Leap

Christopher Tayler

At Auckland Castle: Francisco de Zurbarán

Nicola Jennings

Drain the Swamps

Steven Shapin

Diary: In the Isolation Room

Nicholas Spice

The FoldingNick Laird
Vol. 40 No. 12 · 21 June 2018

The Folding

Nick Laird

390 words


In the midst of this lifelike grief
I am stood at the cutlery drawer,
and keep on standing here as if
I might remember what I came in for,
but then I think of something else,
and head upstairs only to forget
what that was and find myself

eyeing the unmade bed, the bookshelves,
the snow still coming down outside
and realise then, and lift a stack
of printer paper and the safety scissors
for the kids to make snowflakes
I’ll tape to the kitchen windows,
since that was what my mother did.


I know in terms of cuts and folds
a modest pattern’s adequate,
that infinite complexity’s composed
by simple rules, and the last was that
you had to live it out, right to the end –
even as your body starts to stop,
as your face withdraws from itself

and your eyes continue, trapped,
braving a last turn about the place.
O that dull, almost inaudible pat
of obliterative fleck on the glass,
and the clock, and the held breath
as the kids concentrate on symmetries
or the blades’ irresistible path.


I am four and follow her until I spot
the photo booth and slip inside
to climb up on the spinny seat, and watch
cartoons that do not start, and wait
for forty years as they raze
the aisles and checkouts, the car park,
wait for her to draw back the dark

and find me here, staring at the screen
where what I learn of absence is the panic
is substantial, the face is lit with tears
and snot and everyone is crying
as I fold myself into her skirt,
unable to explain that I was here,
behind the curtain, the whole time.


Civil dusk. I scrape the plates.
The falling’s softened to a waltz
and the garden’s lit lavender white.
I suit them up like astronauts
and we step out through the airlock
to a scene as soundproofed as a dream:
its padded walls and ceiling are being

shredded without end. A snowflake catches
in her mother’s lashes when Katherine’s
looking upwards through the branches
at the sky, at the unfolding of bright
wave on bright wave, coherent scrims
of quick scantlings looking to alight, alive,
and we hold out our hands until they are white.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Read More

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences