A gravelly path, a lawn, some wooden seats;
tall beech trees and oaks like sentinels outside
this grim nineteenth century building that’s been
your home. And how long have you been ill?
Were there demons in your head, empty
avenues like gauntlets you had to pass through
and when you touched flowers, did they sometimes
change into the heads of beasts?
We find you lying in the hospital bed framed
in squares of autumn sunlight and your gaze
drifting out, sinking with the setting sun, as if
there was something over the horizon
that might be far more comforting. My father
brings you back with gifts of cigarettes and whisky,
talk about the neighbours and local news.
Your smile seems far off, detached, like a piece
of debris floating through the loneliest space.
I remember the room you spent your life in;
the bed with the horse-hair mattress, before you had
to come to this place and where you were
a stealth figure in my youth. Dipping and diving
behind leafy mass and farm implement,
out of sight of visitors and family, merging
with the trees, your white hair standing out
like the crest of a wave in dark barn or dairy.
But nobody told me why you were like that,
why you had to be alone. Why you were wild
sometimes and other times so quiet
you seemed almost dead. I had to wait
until years after you had passed beyond
that living hell and those same demons
emerged in my own head.