Alan Hollinghurst

November was always mud.
Crossing a ploughed field
our feet grew footballs of clay;
matted with leaves its crust
dropped on bootroom floors.
Its odour was sharp and cold
as a rocket’s nitre, cold as
gardeners’ hands daubing the hot tap.

Grandfather’s eastward view
was mud, deepening and retentive.
His fingers were never free of it,
holding letters broken at their creases
with folding, pressing into a shelled church
for shelter, opening smoke-darkened wings
of a Flemish triptych.

At Cairo it flooded the lift
and he ordered duckboards
to be laid across the Mess,
and left at dusk to walk
barefoot on the red carpets of a mosque.

In peacetime at his dig
the sprigged Orpheus and running hare
shone dully for one day
before the villa’s hidden spring
sapped the bank of earth
and closed their eyes with mud.

Mud is piled on the tarpaulin
at the grave’s edge, curls up
round our polished black welts,
and sends its chill rising
through the soles of the feet like worms.