In her eighties when she died
I found no grief evident
in my father’s face, his hands
solid and square as garden forks spread
unwavering over the coal range
for the warmth to infiltrate
from fingertip to heart.
His love for his mother then, just a fact
not able to be proved.
Like Good Friday's sky
remaining its 3.00 p.m. blue
or grey, not the black I expected
of God’s old blood
and despite what Father Casey said,
nothing either in the shallow cave
in the clay bank down by the culvert.
No stone rolled away,
no angels bright among the gorse
and on the day after the funeral,
my father back driving the tractor
and whistling through his teeth.
I watch as the mountains
become bearded with shadows
and a wind on all fours
scatters the lake before it.
After death, there is a measure of solace:
a pinch of memory.
Like my memory of you,
your amused eyes
under a brow I thought was marble
yet became dust.
This table engraved
with a tree's shadowed veins,
reminds me that time does not
but in the end will always turn
wood to stone.
Through rain the falling scales
of a grey warbler’s song,
forms its familiar, mournful weave
of monotony and grief. Yet listen again
and it is the song of a bird
no bigger than an egg cup.
side by side
On a day in midsummer he’s buried
in a cemetery the sun falls down on
in grey sheets or so it seems,
the breeze lifting tendrils of grass
and hair and moving the bright leaves
of the boundary hedge to twist and crane.
The coffin where he lies emptied
of presence, hands strangely still,
face unlit by awareness,
is first carried then lowered.
It’s been a long battle, just one
of the many clichés; too young, another.
My sister doesn’t want to hear any more.
Mourners shuffle by, grim-faced
they cast small fistfuls of dried clay,
then turn their backs. Earlier,
back at the house, his brother-in-law
dug a hole for the magnolia,
measuring the exact spot,
watering the hard earth
to soften it. Through the open door
of their bedroom, a glimpse
of their bed, dishevelled as always,
the clock, his side, still ticking.
wild mint and cutty grass
In the gully
we see the impaled skeleton of a cat
spead-eagled in a thorny bush
and recognise it
as our pet that had died in the summer,
its body tossed by our father
into blackberry autumn has undressed
to reveal its bones and grimace
from under threadbare fur.
When I tell my sister the fragrant green
under our feet is wild mint, she cries.
She is afraid of mint that might snarl
or suddenly leap. But it is the cutty grass,
its neat accuracy,
we must be wary of. And
this sluggish bog reluctant to help
that sucks and slurps at our gumboots
as overhead, an unseen skylark
wrestles with the sky.
(c) Kay McKenzie Cooke. All rights reserved.