What were you thinking, mother,
When you handed me the slim rectangular package –
A watch for my tenth birthday –
When I came to your bed that lonely winter morning?
I was mute with my longing for your love;
You, a distant angel, in buttoned-up Victorian nighty,
Dim morning light yellowing the pulled blind.
The quiet of that first house echoes in me now;
The time between an empty ache.
Later that day you would listen to Mahler’s Songs of the Earth,
Music heavy as a bowl of stones resting on a table;
Covering the record sleeve, Monet’s field of crimson poppies –
My father’s first gift of music to you.
In the deep recesses of memory, you and I lodge,
The years billowing back like soft muslin curtains
To show the garden of the soul,
The verdant tree of childhood still standing,
The flagstones of my person laid down, flooring me.
The stubby fingers of a bare frangipani
Scrabble toward scraps of night cloud
As a small wind blows at the bulwark of the house
Like a tired child might push against her immovable mother.
One bright star stares from an insistent blackness –
A silent omniscient eye –
As closer to earth
The moving air whispers: look, look,
Look again, and listen.
The leaves want you to hear their rustle,
While the small white frog that you threw from your hands
Into the undergrowth, has landed, unharmed,
And chirrups: a counterpoint to the crickets.
There are seeds nubbing even in this wintry ground;
So close to and part of the dark.
They are another summer’s skeleton.
On the verandah you sit next to a black cauldron
That cradles its red fire –
An effulgence of heat –
Flames springing up to harden the soft bodies of hake
Doused in olive oil and lemon,
Laid out on the grid.
You sip the cold air
As if it might offer solace, like whisky;
Your family indoors and the evening fanning out around you
Lonely as palm fronds arcing from one trunk –
Thick, separate stripes,
Awkward against a dull orange sky.