In Memory of Ruby Yates

Andrew Motion

Here comes Stanley Spencer
with his pram – his bowl-cut –
and his crazy-uncle specs –
so this must be your childhood

Ruby – must be Cookham –
must be 19 – 19-what –
is nothing black and white –
what sort of question’s that –

the war has come and gone –
let’s call it 1920 and you ten –
and look there’s Stanley
turning in the churchyard –

cherry’s out – the purple
buddleia – red admirals –
where he unpacks a canvas
from his pram – a clever brush –

and makes the green grass
open up – the graves too split –
dry peapods – and the well-
dressed dead fly straight

to heaven – some do –
others tumble on the grass
like picnickers – they’re happy –
they’re ecstatic – all brave souls –

kind hearts – bright sparks –
and one’s a girl – a baby –
but my mother – I can tell –
my mother

and your – what’s the word –
your little one – your own
though not your own –
your loved one

all those years to come –
those years all come –
they do – there’s me now –
bright spark on the grass –

I’m next in line for you –
nanny – that’s the word
thank you Stanley, have you finished –
finished no not finished

but the light is finished
this light’s finished ain’t it
off we go – go where now –
let me think – so many days –

you see – here comes
my daughter now – she’s your age
Ruby – well – the age you were
or one of them – feel that –

she’s kissed your face – hello
is this – it’s not – a goodbye kiss –
and not the churchyard either –
this high bed – and you –

your skin gone threadbare –
parched lips moving – soundless –
O – you don’t know what you mean –
you don’t – but I know what you mean.