Dear Ivor, no wonder you are elsewhere
Than here, the park outside a parody
Of your rolling Cotswold hills, its benches
Scratched by jingles, at odds with your poetry.
Not a hint of a wild orchid, spiked rampion
In its flowerbeds, its fountains spat out
By stone cherubs hardly reminiscent
Of the waterfalls you loved that spout,
In dells. Dear Ivor, fifteen years back
Is an equally difficult place to be
As a private in the 2nd/5th Gloucesters,
Letters, a gas mask in your back pack.
You thrived on strict routines of rosters,
Reprieved by a special camaraderie.
The corridor along which the nurses pace
Is a trench, you say, your dressing gown
A uniform, khaki, holed by shells.
Still on The Front in your head, you call
For mates long lost. The slippers you unlace
And lace are boots cracked, sucked down
In mud. You jump at the clocktower bell
As if for a whistle-blown Charge, then fall,
Colour-blinded, numbered, back into a bed
Stretcher-narrow. Post traumatic shock,
They claim. But I know different. Sane
In your insanity, you write nonstop, wed
To lines shaped as loves lost that flock
In dreams, wings, hard-won refrains.
You ask me to help polish the buttons
On your pyjamas, turn bone into brass
Until you can see again your pygmy self
Distorted, ego-less in their shine.
With the cuffs of my hand-knitted cardigan
I buff away, aware this fad will pass.
Your real life breathes in books on the shelf,
Caught in your tuning fork’s every tine.
Then you get me to sing along with you:
Not your own songs, just wartime snatches –
Horsey keep your tail up… Mademoiselle
From Armentières, inkypinky parlez-vous.
Naming shadows in sunlit patches,
I become your accomplice, back to the wall.
Bolt-action rifles at the ready, we point
At the air while the other patients file by
In a salute. Of a sudden you order me:
‘Grab him. Grab your husband from death.
He does not want a priest to anoint
His brow, but to see again a sky
Skud over watermeadows, pick a posy
For your vase, then to swap on his breath –
For choruses every dawn – old army gongs.
In solitude he collects the midnight rain
With which to christen you as you were
Before bereavement. Too long, too long:
A decade and a half. For you in haunted lanes
He grows Honesty, ransoms, larkspur.’
Dear Ivor, as you clench your fists, twitch
And mutter, I see the tailors in your blood
Stitching this cold confined space,
Its barred windows you have withstood
Year after year – with fields. Each bank and ditch
That wild flowers, weeds, mosses stud,
Each byway, stile – you search for a trace
Of yourself and Edward exploring hill, wood.
And then I bring you his old ordnance maps
Creased, cracked, stained – but O what joy.
Your fingers march along unmarked tracks
Tracing companionship despite your memory-lapse.
Prayers for death no more. You smile like a boy,
Shake and shake my hand: your life back.
Too soon, Ivor, walks re-taken, conversations
Revised, you distance yourself from me,
Not so far as Edward since you stay here,
Still, in your tall, gaunt body, your stare
Intense as a blowlamp, deep in visions.
They are getting at you through the frequency
Of the wireless, you claim, are near –
Unpicking with their nails the locks on doors.
In the Common Room where you slouch,
Jaw hanging, with the other inmates,
I sit at the piano, begin to play: Für Elise
Before you the musician to whom I vouched
My fingers worked no more. If a chord is late,
Notes wrong, I continue – for your heart’s ease.