Sleeping Keys

Jean Sprackland

Printed with old roses or tartans and thistles,
there’s a biscuit tin like this in every house.
Prise off the lid and catch the flinty scent
of old keys, decommissioned and sleeping.

Like unspent francs, Deutschmarks and drachmas
they accumulate here, inert and futureless,
though each in its time was powerful:
precision-cut on a wheel of sparks.

Tip them out on the table in the empty kitchen
and rake through them one last time.
The mortice for the first front door,
the Yale for the porch, replaced ten years ago
(never a good copy, it balked at the turn).

These antiques were for internal doors,
this one perhaps the old bathroom where
he knocked softly, and you stepped out of the bath
and printed the bare boards with your feet
as you hurried to unlock and let him in.

Padlock keys for sheds and bikes, and a set
with a jaunty tag for the house next door, though
the people are different now and you can’t imagine
popping round and watering the plants.

Count out their obsolete treasure on the table,
puzzling as your grandmother’s brooches and hatpins
and with the same residual gravity –
the shiny, the worn, the ones threaded
on string or paper clips, or marked with Tippex,
the miniatures for medicine cabinets and pianos –

then scoop the lot into the bin, because
not one will ever spring a lock again
to let him into your space, or you to his.
No more the easy click of the blade engaging
and nudging the bolt aside, or his grin as he entered
the room of steam, already slipping off his shirt.