From her sleep my grandmother faded through the mesh of supposition
that bore the image I had constructed as a child. Her untidy halo snagged
barbs of memory, became flags that marked her boundary, fluttered briefly
in surrender, then dipped to recognise her passage from the world.
Space that had curved to match her stoop stood empty now
and she rocked instead in the half-cupped cradle of her maker’s hand.
Always frail, now thinned to mist, her last breath departed to let in a new day
and announced, a new way of conceiving her.
Weeks later, as my mother cleared her room, I sighed against the glass
wiped a hole in the condensation and ‘I-spied’ with myself the conservatory
with the caved-in roof, the tussocks of grass where we beat the carpets,
the cattle standing chewing on the overgrown lawn, the nettles growing
where we emptied the chamber-pots.
Behind me her dressing table cleared now of embroidered doilies,
hand mirrors and dental fixative, slowly emptied of hat pins, parma violets,
sachets of lavender, stiff collars and collar studs, rennies, silver threepenny bits,
farthings, Victorian pennies, a sovereign from 1896—the year of her birth—
wedding and funeral orders of service, mother-of-pearl buttons, ration books,
broken watches, unstrung amber beads, tin elastoplast boxes,
stamps with a king’s head on them
and coiled up stays for the corsets that held her semi-upright.
Perhaps only I saw her smile still dusted on the pillow, framed in the lace-trimmed
half-round collar of a nightdress, saw the swirl of first communion snow,
white confetti, a christening gown, watched her winter world shine for a while,
then turn cold.
No one told a child about love then, or death, or injustice, or disappointment,
and I told no one about mine; things that didn’t have a name didn’t count as loss,
like home sickness, compassion for a beaten dog, fear of a grandfather—
an angry, selfish, cruel, foul-mouthed, antithesis of a husband and carer.
Instead, I wept in the dark, kept quiet until the scream came years later
when I’d learned the words, worked out the hard toil, the pain
and gentle forgiveness that had shaped her life, and remembered him shouting
at each dumb animal he beat: Bastard! Bastard! Bastard!