On My Mother’s Side
Across the double glazing, the full moon
nudges a look-alike, its own spook satellite,
in and out of watery cloud.
A string quartet’s refined accents – andante
cantabile – are exercising heart strings,
when, gurgling suddenly, the phone ...
She’s trying numbers, Simpsons in the book.
‘Is that the Matt Simpson that’s at
Liverpool University?’ Dear Cousin Marje –
there’s just enough love between us now
for the announcing of funerals, opening of graves:
now her father’s slung his hook, his old heart,
straining to lift a clod, a spade,
has juddered to its halt. She snipes ‘You sound
posher than the last time me and you ...’
(another year, another grave); reprimands ‘That’s not
our Mattie!’ I need to joke ‘Diss better den?’
to help her feel at home, put her in some kind
of right, so’s we can be all-those-years-ago
hardfaced again. My mother’s brother, Uncle John,
twenty years outbreathing her – his Seventy-Five
throws shadows now that I’m her age.
Much of my life his Man’s-World excluded me:
the pubs, the bevvying, docks, grabs, slings,
his docker’s hook slashing into cotton bales ...
that khaki photograph, his sergeant’s cheeriness
with cap skew-whiff across his brow as if
appalling war were his best joke. Years collapse
in ten minutes’ trite apologies, regrets,
of voices wriggling in and out of graves.
‘We think you ought to know,’ they say.