I remember reading a story once,
set in Victorian England,
about a gentleman whose young wife
—in an unexplained miracle
of the very worst kind—
gradually turns into a fox.
And here you are sitting in our kitchen
at a quarter to one in the morning,
dressed in someone else’s coat,
smelling of neglect and nights
without the comfort of sleep.
Are you well?
Such a useless question
when thirst is slowly unravelling summer
from your skin,
from the corners
of your mouth.
We offer you the couch
but you are racing across fields,
Winter’s cold breath pounding in your ears.
On their wedding day his father said
I’ll forgive you everything if you do right by this girl:
the unfinished education;
the empty table setting at Christmas;
the family name unpolished, unloved.
I never met my grandfather,
a man who lived under the glare of his wife,
but I remember my grandmother—a small woman—
her mouth eternally disappointed.
Dad bringing us down to visit her
to the small dark house on Bulfin Road
where the furnishings took themselves too seriously.
Later, in that same house, I found a studio photograph
of the polished family; my grandfather, something familiar
in the way he’s leaning against the table,
my dad, a beautiful child about three years old
sitting beside his brothers and sisters, and there
my grandmother, upright and disapproving
staring into the camera, daring it to blink.
That blond-haired little boy,
the man who loved his wife for sixty years,
couldn’t wait to cycle home from work,
gave up his wages every week,
cooked our fry on Saturday mornings,
scrubbed our nails, polished our shoes.
Still wonders if he did enough.
Still wonders if he’s been forgiven.
That First Year
The world spun on,
same rotation from West to East,
same speed, same seasons
in the same order.
Tides did their usual thing,
waves made their lapping sounds,
seagulls screeched their indignation.
Over in No. 80
small changes were noted:
the kitchen table
listing to one side,
no back and forth
of a conversation
in the making.
the faint sound of
and Louis Armstrong
having to remind us
it’s a wonderful world.
All poems © copyright Anne Tannam, 2017