Two Poems

Ruth Padel

The Grief Maps

You find the manuals (‘How to Mourn’)
on Borders’ Self-Help shelves. ‘Imagine this
to be your Trail Guide in a park. Starting from
Point Death, the paths available

are Numbness, Shock, Denial. They lead to Loneliness,
Confusion; visions of black lorries
dashing by on the M25
each with a hole in its black side

like the last piece missing from a jigsaw:
sable icebergs calving in the Sea
of Desolation. This is where hallucinations start.
The hand on your arm from behind

as you enter a room. Expect a second goodbye,
probably in a dream. You arrive
at Sunset Point, that canyon lip
of apricot and rose, best place

to overlook those Lemsip tablelands
you now can call the past. Or Mount Cayambe,
sole spot on the globe
where temperature and latitude reach zero both

at once.’ What the books don’t say
is how you then discover
you never felt he loved you. A hand on your arm
would be a first: not true to life as you

have lived it. Think, instead,
of how he sent you to a shrink
when you were eight, or nine.
Shrinks – if you were in

the business – were the panacea
for everything. He had your IQ tested,
you were fine – too fine, in fact – but shy,
withdrawn; bereft in the midst

of plenty. Maybe one night you tell your lover
all the details, soaking his chest
in tears; then find your naked body curling,
as he sleeps, in some weird

agony of its own behind a curtain. Maybe in
a window looking down at early light
on, let’s say, Dublin. Merrion Square.
He sighs – he wants to do this right –

and scoops you back to bed. He’s suddenly seen
how easy desolation is. How quick and near,
this place he’s never been – or not like this. Despair
has a different compass-point for him.

The way he’s angry, talks about abuse,
is summertime. You suddenly see how mad
it was, a dad who didn’t seem,
whatever went on inside himself, to know or like

you much (except your brain)
and yet kept tabs
on you by paying someone else. A spy,
a thief of dreams, with Viennese cake

for tea on paper doilies.
It seemed the normal father thing
to have you walk that post-school drag
from buses going on

to Maida Vale, Wood Green,
past hedges of two-tone holly
and pavements with pink edges
where small bricks slid in the rain.

No reason given why,
if you tried to throw warm water in the air,
it came down ice. The manuals don’t say
that only by retracing that blank wilderness

with no map but your head, now safe
on your boyfriend’s arm,
do you see what love is up for. Then imagine
that he goes, and you’re alone.

The Swing

You lunge forward, keen
       to have a go
when you spot the rope
       swinging from a willow,

making a single line
       with its sister reflection.
Hope on the touch
       line, two lives in one

hanging over the Crimplene
       river. So much
waiting to happen.
       Perfect, you whisper. Perfect.