Two Poems

Alistair Elliot

Mother

Somewhere among the roots of England
my mother found her rules.
Some shy Shakespearean aunt
taught her to eat from fairy circles
and how to name a
tracehorse: Forrest or Homer –

coins from the wordhoard of our tribe
buried in the angelic angles
around home: in Long Chase, the Top,
the Forty-Acre, the Pikel.
School spread on this the alphabet
and the best lines of Scott,

and a cousin from Australia
showed a way to peel an orange
(about the time of Gallipoli)
with a knife, in seconds –
a startling modern skill
in a medieval girl –

but she never learned to hold reason
so that it would not squirm.
I puzzled for years over one
bewitching apophthegm:
‘Always stir the pan
widdershins, against the sun.’

Now in her old age I
question this cooking-etiquette:
Was it a form of magic?
‘What ever made you think that?
Don’t you know If the spoon should turn,
There your scrambled egg will burn?’

1860

Sometimes the draught around the driver’s seat
or past the kitchen radiator reaches
into my memory: among the bones
of my right leg I feel the shapeless fingers
straying that firmly grasped the teenage body
of my grandfather’s brother Matthew, who one night
slept on the hill while herding sheep. The pain
in his hip next day went on and finished him.
It was the year of the high Victorian dream:
Great Expectations, and ‘Mr Huxley, was it
your grandfather or your grandmother was an ape?’
– and this white pain, that lingers in my bones.