In the garden
Dirt under my fingernails
proclaims the advent of spring,
and summer’s slow continuance.
My ankles and calves are mud-streaked
grubbing around in weeds like caterpillars,
seeds come to visibility as tiny green promises.
I am face to face with
the reality of miracles.
The man who sang
There’s a man who stands and sings by the river.
The colour of a country night with a full grey beard and shiny white teeth,
he pours his heart out to the tide.
At first I thought he was some kind of nutter.
An old boy mumbling to himself in a baggy t shirt
with a banana in his hand.
And then, he opened his mouth.
In Kensal Green cemetery
In Kensal Green cemetery
I sat down and wept
over the graves both kept and unkept.
Bunches of artificial flowers like bright
Easter eggs drew us in
to read plaques dedicated to loved ones
“gone to sleep”
watched over by statues of the Madonna
and little garden gnomes.
Vines engulf crooked stones,
mausoleums and baby angels
slowly being reclaimed by the earth
in an ironic overturning
of why they were there in the first place.
Like piano keys, the white stones
mark the places of young men
who died a long way from home
believing in something
that had little to do with them.
All that life.
Among the young lovers
and old ladies with umbrellas
there was a holy man.
A pulpy, middle aged woman
responded to the question:
“Is this the train to Preston?”
She had ash blonde hair.
The colour of fire that has burned,
of leaves once they have turned,
of people who are dead.
On the Kidderminster train
She was a tiny, white haired lady weighed down with carrier bags, plain clothing and age. Her feet, clad in sensible, heavy shoes and sturdy brown tights were long and wide and her hands and wrists were thickened by struggle and hand washed laundry. She did not move quickly but she did not move slowly. She moved easily and steadily, looking this way and that for the best place to sit; like a bird.
She sat next to me.
“Is this the train to Kidderminster?
I’ve only got one eye. And I’m over 80. So they don’t let me out much any more.
What with only one eye.
I’ve got a husband at home and he’s 89. Imagine – 89.
He’s got no legs.
One cut off at the knee, one at the groin.
89. Can you imagine?
We’ve been married 62 years.
We love each other.
We live in a bungalow on my daughter’s land. It was our land – the farm and the house. It took two and a half years to build the bungalow. Council took two and a half years – and my husband having no legs and had to be lifted up every step. But we live there now and the doors are especially wide for his electric chair.
Runs on batteries.
Do you know batteries?
My daughter has 6 children. 25, 23, 21, 19, 17 and then she got pregnant again after 14 years. Oh she was well out, didn’t know what to do, cried every day, thought about an abortion. She was over 40. I said I didn’t agree because it is against my religion. So now she has a son – a real little farmer he is.
They love him.
We had a farm in Wales in the hills.
We were very poor and couldn’t let our son farm with us even after he went to agricultural college.
There just wasn’t enough land.
Well, my husband’s parents were still alive and we bought a farm in 1956 with the guarantors of a bank and eight years ago it was all paid off! We gave half to our children by a deed of gift.
It’s theirs now.
I was a Londoner and moved to Wales when I got married. I thought I’d have to leave him I was so homesick. So every time I’d get a bout I’d come back up to London, or he’d take me and I’d stay for five or six weeks and then my father would say: “Right, time to go back.” And I’d stay there eight or nine months until the next one. And this went on until the first child.
I looked after 300 chickens. I had to work. The farm was so poor we would not have been able to support ourselves. The money from the chickens was mine.
Then we bought some land here. 17 acres and a farm house.
It’s ours now.
My son has 70 milk cows and he visited his dad in the hospital every day. Imagine! I went every afternoon and the grand children took turns.
It’s because we love him.
When he had to go in the second time he thought his time was up.
“No it’s not.”
That’s what I told him.
And he was well enough to come home for Christmas.
He didn’t want to go back and I said we’d have to hire a private nurse. He cried because he didn’t think we could afford it but my son said: “If the doctor thinks you can stay home then you will stay home.”
He’s over 80 you know.
Is this Kidderminster?
If you can just help me down. I don’t like steps and they don’t do my lungs any good.
Right now give me a kiss.”
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