The obvious story, my darling,
is that Dis caught you
into his dark kingdom.
I don’t know where I was
when he seared the grass
with winter footprints.
If your mother was not there
whose hand could hold you
when he opened the earth for you?
I see your fingers
twist in your lap
as you keep mute.
You will not eat the seeds.
You know what he offers you.
They glow softly, like coral
in the blue vaults of this hell
where I am only a shadow
squeaking its anguish.
Let me take your place in the dark.
Dis knows you have eaten nothing
of his gifts, his pomegranates.
For months he’s kept you,
whispering ‘Your mother never loved you
as I love you.’
Part your hands, my darling.
Let me pour into them
all the light I can find.
How busy we are with the dead in their infancy,
who are still damp with the sweat of their passing,
whose hair falls back to reveal a scar.
We think of wiping their skin, attending them
in the old way, but are timid, ignorant.
We walk from the high table where they are laid
leaving their flesh royally mounded
just as they have left it
for the undertakers to cherish.
We consider the last kiss,
the taste and the grain of it.
The lift doors squeeze open, then shut.
All day we think that we have lost our car keys.
There is a feeling in the back of the mind
as we eat a meal out on the balcony
but the door refuses to open
and although my sisters have prepared food elaborately
you do not advance to us, smiling.
The children have put sauce on the side of their plates
thinking you will come and swipe a chip,
thinking this meal is one you cooked
as always, humming to yourself in the kitchen,
breaking off to tap the barometer
and watch starlings roost on the pier.
How long it takes to stop being busy with that day,
each second of it like the shard
of a pot which someone has laboured to dig up
and piece together without knowledge
of language or context.
Slow, slow, the deciphering.
Step by step, holding the thread,
step by step into the dark,
step by step, holding a flag of light
where the tunnel in secrecy closes
like fist or crocus.
My footsteps follow your footsteps
into the dark where they are still
after all these years
just beyond my hearing,
so I call to you in the language
that even now we speak
because you taught me to be haunted
by the catch and space of it –
because we paid for it.
At the tunnel’s end a black lake,
a small, desultory boat,
the pluck of the water
as the boat shapes from the shore
while a boatman reads his newspaper
with a desultory air.
The cave roof glistens.
The ribs and flanks of the chamber
all give back the dark water.
I am ready for the journey –
Shall we take ship together? –
Shall we lift my torch into the boat
and sit athwart?
Shall we pass our hands quickly
through crocus and saffron
like children playing with matches?
Even if the boat never sets sail
we can be content,
and I won’t look at your face
or write another word.