Squirming at the pumpkin guts, your hands scooped into ladles, spooning palmfuls of seed and sludge. We took desert spoons to the wisp remains. Raked the slick walls smooth. Marked out the features with sharpies, a wide outline mouth, hollow eyes, skeleton nose. Sawed kitchen knives through thick sick, fingers squeaking tight on the handles. This year, that kitchen is someone else’s, and the plants have not spat out anything other than flowers, their yellow blooms autumn mulched into the borders. There is no spilling through the doorway, hat and coats rain kissed into my open arms. No mud footprints on the tiles. Only seeds, sat on the shelf, kept dark and safe, for more hospitable times. My own roots deepening, on the promises pushed away till Spring. Evening has a weight,a sense of things settling down,comfort in closing.
She brings it in with her, the rain, clung to the tip of her nose and through her hair so it’s blacker than night. Strips out of her waterproofs till she has shape. Colour, risen high in her cheeks, on the knuckles of her hands. Reveals the desperation of it, crept through zips and openings. Slid a caress down her neck till she bears a collar of its touch. Trails it deeper into the kitchen, Siren kettle a song to sodden socked feet, printing a vanishing trail across the tiles.
For a while I wondered if my grandmother was magic. You see she would talk about the night she spent near Culloden. How my grandfather slept on sound, and she was tossed through dreams of screaming men. The English and their guns, against the all those clansmen, come to die. For a while I believe she’d walked the battle in her dreams. The tartans, like welsh (for a while) were outlawed to break that spirit. Make them less like them, and more like us. Then they only rise against themselves. The English are very good at making adversaries of themselves. When a friend shows me her family tartan, there was a plucking sort of feeling. An ache for a history only half understood, and twice removed. I could find it, put it on, but somehow I doubt I would fit. Not enough of the right stuff in me, to tie me into the pattern. Made me wonder how much of myself I can claim. The loch waters rose and I saw my own face there …
Somewhere there is a poleaxe, your sweat worked into the staff from unbroken nights, where the pig must not squeal. Milk bottle spectacles but no flame or light catching in the glass reflection. All of it done in the silence that cannot be broken, unlike the rules you’re cleaving with each precise blow. Hands returned to steering wheel, on dark lanes winding home, nose to windscreen foot light on the accelerator, you mouth curled in prayer. May they not come back this way with the fat bulbs unsown on London, or Crewe, or elsewhere deemed vital. May they not discard their leftovers on these field tonight. Let the silence be unbroken. VE Day 2020 Not long ago my mother told me about the poleaxe my great-grandfather kept in the garage. He used it during the Second World War to slaughter pigs, as it was more effective at killing them quickly before there was chance for them to make any sound. This was during rationing, when there were limitations on the slaughter of livestock. My …
So it started with a broken laptop. Or maybe it started with your brother, pointing you towards a target, that wasn’t me by any means, but I was somewhere on the other side of it. Or maybe it started with an offer made to my Grandfather, which he passed onto my mother and her new husband. Or maybe it started with a newspaper ad, Welshmen need not apply. Or maybe it started in Ireland, with a broken engagement and a ferry ticket. Or maybe we are so far from the start there is no point loosing myself on the path back to it. The sun rose again, and the weather changed its tune but that’s not the start.
The house bursting and yet empty. This is a bareness of harvest or pestilence. Tilly put the book down when her Aunt asked what she was reading. She made an excuse and escaped through the kitchen. Hurried along the pockmarked lane. The keys were cold in her palm, which was odd, seeing as they had been hung by the Aga. When she climbed the gate she heard him muttering about townies always f’ing over good gates by not climbing over hinge end. The tractor won’t start at first, takes a little coaxing. Great Old Lady, done more than her fair share of things and would carry on longer than he would no doubt. She eased it into gear and checked the harrow out of the back window. He’d liked things finished, seen through to the end. Today was as good a day as any.
You with your oak bark hands planted on the bank just before the hill drop to what is now town. I could see worlds still turning in your memory, as if the clock stopped in a hundred different places. I even recognise a few of the people caught here in this last place of green before the concrete and brick. It is a cruelty to take you from this bank above town. It is crueller still to take all this away. My mother thinks I should try to write some less heavy poems, and I have been trying, but they all seem to twist into the shadows.
Someone comments that she’d never really worked. Not a proper job. Not a nine-to-five, sit down at a desk, shuffle the papers, count the numbers, find the words sort of job. She just ‘helped’ her parents in their shop, then ‘helped’ her husband. At Christmas my mother, her daughter, takes the carving knife. Skills become ingrained when you park a pram in the backroom of a butcher’s. They get passed down on generation to the next. Not always perfect, but present like the bark and callous of their hands when they take mine. Evidence of everything they’ve given. She says she never really worked a proper job, not a nine-to-five, like I have. Passes me the cutter for scones that won’t be as good as her mother’s, because she hasn’t got the knack like she had. She was only ever ‘helping’ not working, not like her daughter does, not like I do. She was only ever there in the background. Autumn is not Spring, but beauty still grows in her and there is worth there.
She put it to the back of a wardrobe, in a bag of mismatched things, none of any use these days but none the sort you throw away. The sort you keep until they’re found by curious small hands cooped up by the rain on window panes. Discovering you before them.
Half this family tree has been watered until the branches hang heavy with fruit. We know all the name, if not the faces, see the resemblance in the variety. On the other side we know much less, can’t quite feast on what is left. There are wanderers in this blood, apples that fell far and wide and distant. Strangers in stranger places bobbed, grew their own trees from loose cores. People put down roots, grew branches, spread the distance between lines.