Two Poems

Michael Longley

January 12, 1996

He would have been a hundred today, my father,
So I write to him in the trenches and describe
How he lifts with tongs from the brazier an ember
And in its glow reads my words and sets them aside.

The Mustard Tin

You are dying and not sleeping soundly because
Your eyes stay open and it doesn’t seem to hurt.
We want you to blink and find three of us standing
For a few seconds between you and the darkness.

Your mouth has opened so wide you appear to scream.
We will need something to close your terrible yawn.
I hoke around in my childhood for objects without
Sharp edges and recover the oval mustard tin.

A daughter strokes your forehead and says: ‘There. There.’
A daughter holds your hand and says: ‘I’m sorry.’
I focus on the mustard tin propping your jaw,
On the total absence of the oval mustard tin.