He travels 6000 miles to see her.
The polite clip of an English tea room is unfamiliar,
her voice a mumble;
words brush off like cake-crumbs.
The explosion left him deaf in one ear.
As today, he strained;
it felt like the backdraft shunted his brain.
She knows, but still he has to lip-read,
picks up “Hong Kong,” replies
to what he thinks she said.
Says the traffic is incessant,
always the screaming of brakes –
to her drumroll and her rising dragon.
Street markets hum.
His engines roar with rage.
The vendor greets him faithfully;
sells him soft bears for her two children.
You can buy anything in this city.
He looks for her voice –
it is nacred, like a cultured mabe;
striking, like a bauhinia leaf.
He stirs their laughter into milk tea, noisily.
Plays his spoons to her ghost.
A microwave ping sounds defeat in their game:
he chooses a decade’s silence
a long, uncomfortable evening with a cold host.
She ran rings around him.
I amused myself,
arranged my bands of toys,
jumped through hoops of blue smoke
like a circus poodle,
joined up coffee mug stains on the table.
Doodled chains of precious metals’ molecules.
The electric ring glowed, fingers curled off the lids of cans.
I became a snake and rings coiled around my body.
I became a bell that sounded deep and powerful.
A velvet curtain pulled back to reveal the show.
I assumed the crucifix till my shoulders trembled,
looped gold earrings down my swan neck.
I knitted tubes with circular needles
determined to cover my limbs.
My thin bird legs were tied with metal.
One day the man left a ring.
The man left his mark with a ring,
like a tender woody breve from a recorder,
a round benefaction from a wealthy land,
but it was duly wrapped up in brown paper
as if it were fish and chips not someone’s heart.
Baffled, it pumped at the post office counter
till it was stamped unceremoniously
with a red circle and a date.
Pencils are spirited away; sharpeners raptured.
Coloured paperclips make light of heaven’s in-tray.
A secret ballot: the guilty child must sign a cross.
Three times we fold our squares. Three times are counted out.
Now every drawer is open in the Convent classroom
as Sister B remembers what she was before,
leads not into temptation our kleptomaniac,
recalls the therapy, reverses one child’s fate.
There is nothing in your stride to hint remorse.
The red duffle coat puffs up in autumn wind;
the empty woven basket will soon be full
of necessities, like eggs, zucchini, bread.
I still have the biscuit tin for what was no doubt
the last biscuit. And I will keep it, unless you
collect it. I quicken my step. That attack
has left me reeling, and now I see you sailing,
a vessel I thought would always carry love
storing up provisions for a winter of hate.
A meniscus sucks the 100ml mark
in a beaker of just-boiled water.
The sleeves of my sloppy joe are
stretched, flop like old breasts.
There are two distinct moments:
shock and pain. The body’s strange fashion,
a delay, then the brain’s alarm.
What you want is the pain,
the nice ambulance men applying
a tea-tree poultice, praising you
for running the cold tap and sousing
that angry welt. Bundling you up
and off to hospital; dosing you
with tranquilizers. What you don’t want
is a wire stuck along the way,
an ectopic pregnancy of the mind,
a white missive trapped in your liver.
You don’t want the baby crying
while that signal halts at your dorsal horn
and tarries at your thalamus. You want it
to hit your limbic system well before then.
You want spasm like an infant wants milk.
You want that tension out in your person.
You must shudder with a newborn’s cry.