Twice the same sound, my fingers snapping
in the vice of your large hand. I hold my breath.
Your mother looks peaceful in her blue velvet dress.
The old ways were hers. Fasts kept. Name-days observed.
You’ll always be a stranger here she told me the morning we met.
Your sister stopped stoning cherries, hissed Quiet!
Now she is. I feel light as a soap bubble. And sick.

Three women stand round their shopping bags singing
a cappella. I can smell goose fat, onions, camphor, sweat.
Their voices fill the wooden dome. They’re paid to share
our loss. Swallows ambush the rising notes, feed them to their children.
They weave through dusty sunlight-bars that cage
the open coffin. You planed it smooth yourself, used planks of walnut
and cherry, cut from the orchard she loved.

The women stop. You tighten your grip, stare straight ahead.
We both intone responses not sure if we believe.
They echo back distorted. I hit the tiled floor hard.
Your sister prises my hand from yours,
ties her handkerchief round the swelling. I can hear
but can’t move or see. A splinter of bone poisons
my blood. For a week I talk in tongues.

Dearest reader! Our newsletter!

Sign up to our newsletter for the latest content, freebies, news and competition updates, right to your inbox. From the oldest literary periodical in the UK.

You can unsubscribe any time by clicking the link in the footer of any email you receive from us, or directly on Find our privacy policies and terms of use at the bottom of our website.