Staring Death down
with a bottle of morphine in one hand,
a bottle of Jameson in the other:
laughing at Death—
love unconditional keeping her just this side
of the threshold
as her body withered
and her eyes grew darker and stranger
as her hair grew back after chemo
thick and curly as when she was a girl;
always a girl in her glance
teasing Death—humour a lance
she tilted at Death.
Scourge of Croydon tram drivers and High Street dossers
on her motorised invalid scooter
that last year:
bearing the pain,
not crucifixion but glory
in her voice.
Old skin, bag of bones,
grinning back at the rictus of Death:
always a girl in her name—
Cora, maiden, from the Greek Kopπ,
promising blossom, summer, the scent of thyme.
And we would know the very moment
it was time to go and leave her
in the arms of Death who desired her so
and walk out under the stars of April
thrown like sequins
on the velvet of night.
Sequin: she is standing on the kitchen table.
She is twenty one.
It is nineteen sixty one.
The women are sewing red sequins
to the hem of her white satin dress
as she moves slowly round and round.
Sequins red as the berries,
red as the lips of maids
in old time ballads,
red as blood on the snow,
as blood on the bedsheet,
as this red pen on this white paper
I’ve snatched from the flux
to catch this poem
at my own kitchen table—
Cora, Marie, Jacinta, my aunties,
Helena, my mother, Mary, my grandmother—
the light of those stars
only reaching me now.
I orbit the table I can barely see over.
I am under it singing.
She was weeks from taking the boat to England.
Dust on the mantlepiece,
dust on the cards she left behind:
a black cat swinging in a silver horseshoe,
a giant key to the door,
emblems of luck, of access.
All that year I hunted sequins:
roaming the house I found them
in cracks and crannies,
in the pillowcase, the eiderdown,
under the stairs,
in a hole in the lino,
in a split in the sofa,
in a tear in the armchair
in the home of the shy mouse.
With odd beads and single earrings,
a broken charm bracelet, a glittering pin,
I gathered them into a tin box
which I open now in her memory—
the coinage, the sudden glamour
of an emigrant soul.