These poems originally appeared in the October 2012 issue of B O D Y.
‘Then can I go home?’ she asks them brightly.
I note three pearls, bunched at the doctor’s throat,
the dark nape of the fair nurse, curling tightly.
The silence stretches out to Tewkesbury,
past churches, phone masts, often-flooded fields.
The salt which pricks my throat is not the sea.
How hot the sun is, soaked into my bones.
Bees thrust roses’ pink cups; nuzzle pollen.
Young nurses stroll in pairs, then glance at phones.
Foodless for five hours, thin, giddy, free,
I watch, below swifts’ blur, the lights blaze green.
Noon traffic floats me out to summer’s sea.
THEN THE CAT CAME IN
I cannot tell you
of the second robin.
You have so much on!
Cancer has crawled
through your mother’s body.
Tax papers pile.
You have gone
out to her vast garden
to pull bindweed, choking
under the dry pines,
their calm and gloom.
Nor did I tell you
about the first robin,
which was still alive.
It glanced at me,
in the quick magnanimity of death,
until sun clouded
and the eye went in.
No use to praise
blue and grey feathered
edge to the wings
as sky edges the day,
claws fine as wires,
the rumpled breast, neither
poppy nor blood.
I will not tell myself
that young birds may be starving
if the two were a pair.
For how do I know?
I am not God
which is why I was sleeping
when the cat went out
when the cat came in.
But the sun soars
over hospital roofs
over deserts and rivers
the hills’ hidden springs.
The garden is tossing
shadows of roses
fountains of scent,
of leaves, yes, and wings.
BY THE WAY
How did the good Samaritan, in dust
of noon, give water to the beaten man?
A goatskin pouch, the brown of rust,
prised open in that blaze of heartless South,
coughed one precious spurt on road and hand,
then trickled on his chin, bruised cheek, burnt mouth.
At first the water held the heat of day
then came the ghost of coolness from the well.
The tang of leather would not go away,
but lingered, like the treetop bird’s one note.
How do you know? You did not stop for him.
You never held your knife to the kid’s throat.
ALISON BRACKENBURY’s eighth collection, Then, was published by Carcanet in April 2013. New poems can be read at her website. She also sends a new poem every two months to members of her Facebook Group.