Mother who has been
my broken bowl my holy grail
my long silence my spoken truth
my tiny bound feet my seven league boots
my never quite my every first prize
when you come on the forgotten well among the trees
lower the bucket, hand over hand: the rope will hold
as you draw up the cold clear water. Feel how it cools
your blood’s wild fire, scorched earth greens back, seeds burst,
and you can read again the hieroglyphics of branches
budding across the sky. Birds wake to fly and small animals
uncurl among the nascent ferns. Listen –
a child’s untroubled voice rings on the morning air, singing
as you fetch water for your mother from the wood well
and nothing will be lost.
Here is your father, once the youngest boy
neighbours had ever seen between
the handles of a plough, the hardest worker.
He lies under my heart carved in stone,
grown to the man who never wept.
Soft as a breast, your mother
is my children’s remembered dream of milky mouths.
Each thought undone, each memory unpeeled,
each year of you, I fold, hold to my cheek
like the white linen your grandmother sewed
by candlelight. I breathe you in, the living skin of me
knowing it was always too late for us, for everything
happens as it must, in its own moment.
As I become the past on which the future rests,
forgiveness is a final irrelevance.
Years from now, on some perfect summer evening,
I will look and you’ll be in the garden, gathering fruit.
A small dog will follow at your heels
as you pick gooseberries, bursting juice,
strawberries red ripe under leaves.
When you see me, you will beckon me to come,
and I’ll run down the years into your arms.
From Snakeskin Stilettos 1998