Two Poems

Andrew Motion

Open Secrets

‘The first time father erupted that day
was at Florrie rolling the dustbins downhill
to their emptying-pit. From the upstairs landing
I saw him arms crossed with his dressing-gown’s
dark green paisley swirled in the wind, and Florrie
scarlet, still half-swiveled round to the litter
as if it surprised her, tattering out in a trail
of scrumpled tissues and newspapers onto the moor.

After dark in McDermot’s barn at the usual time
she told me his other disaster: how he had taken
five shots that day to finish his stag, and the fifth
was fired by McDermot. McDermot went with him
as ghillie, and afterwards had the stag to himself
for keeping quiet. If ever Florrie stopped talking
we heard it next door through the pineboard wall,
dribbling and pinging blood in a metal bucket.’

Just now, prolonging my journey home to you, I killed
an hour where my road lay over a moor, and made this up.
Florrie I sat on a grass-grown crumbling stack of peat
with the boy by her side, and as soon as she whispered
Come on. We’ve done it before, I made him imagine
his father garrotting the stag, slitting the stomach
and sliding his hands inside for warmth. He was never
myself, this boy, but I know if I tell you his story
you’ll think we are one and the same: both of us hiding
in fictions which say what we cannot admit to ourselves.

Beginning the move

The day I began my move, they happened
to fly the wounded home. I would have been
hands on hips by the bookshelves wondering
Where do I start? as the first plane
crescendoed and wheeled away to the country –
a VC 10 set for our toytown local base.

I soon forgot it – toing and froing
with armfuls of books, first, then clothes,
then clattering plates. But in mid-afternoon,
when I was almost done, and just wearily
mooning down aisles of loaded tea-chests,
the plane returned out of nowhere

– enormous, and filling my mind’s eye.
It was drawn right up to Arrivals, engines off
but still with their rippling trumpets of air,
and a door was gaping wide by the wing
where the soldiers appeared: on stretchers,
some hobbling, some with arms round friends

like drunks helped towards bed, and one –
why did he look Chinese? – emerging at last
in tears, with a pantomime sliding stagger.
Before he could leave the ramp, he had vanished –
lost with the rest as an elbowing crush
of pressmen and families jostled me back

to myself. By then I was through to the kitchen,
and found I was slouched with my face leant close
to the goldfish tank – watching the fish
wriggle and flick in the cave of my silhouette,
and my mouth relaxing a comical kneading pout
to ask aloud How shall I ever move you?