The coffin is unvarnished pine
with six rope handles,
tawny resin beading a seam.
The viewing room is empty.
You are gone,
striding out across the veld
heeled by our childhood hounds.
should have warned the undertaker
you would never agree
to lie in this box.
It arrives in the mail
with a licence renewal,
wears the thin, grey socks
It curls up, settles in
where I least expect –
a note slipped between pages,
a bald head in a supermarket queue.
The day she brings your ashes home,
my mother cradles the box to her breast
before placing it in a cool, dark cupboard.
In a kitchen, miles away,
I unsheathe long-stemmed roses –
removing thorns and leaves,
trimming stalks –
the creamy green guard petals
beginning to open.
Rising, then receding,
her voice wavers through the telephone –
and, here, in my fingers,
the cellophane label, 'Esperance'
If You Are Lucky
If you are lucky
you will carry one night with you
for the rest of your life,
a night like no other.
You won't see it coming.
Forget the day, the year.
It will arrive uninvoked,
an astrological anomaly.
You will remember
how every cell in your body
knew him, this stranger,
how you held your breath,
the way you searched his face.
This is how such evenings begin.
And you will be real in your skin,
bone and sinew; the way you always thought
you could be. Effortlessly.
This is how you will fit together.
His parted lips between your thighs,
your half-lit nipples darkening,
the hot-breathed arrival of desire,
the frenzied coupling
as you opened soundlessly
and the world flooded into you.
In the morning, maybe,
soon after sunrise
you will walk barefoot above a waterfall in the forest,
light-headed with the smell of sex,
laughing in your déshabillée.
You will carry
the music of this memory with you;
and from time to time,
in the small, withered hours,
your body will sing its remembering.
He had forgotten how to walk,
the child they found roosting
upside down in the cave depths,
cauled in silence and darkness,
arms folded across his chest.
For years he had gleaned beetles
from the chamber floor, snaffled
moths and mosquitoes in mid-air,
lapped from the silted pool at twilight.
Startled by halogen beams,
spelunkers’ thudding boots,
his family, roused from torpor,
had abandoned its crevices, swarmed
above the harnessed men,
through the hibernaculum mouth
and disappeared into the woods.
Now, monitored by behaviourists
behind an observation pane,
the boy huddles on a cot, his head
against his knees, eyes closed,
squeaking as if echolocation
might guide him home.
The McGillivray barn
before the family murders:
To the right you can make out
the timbered stalls, the chaff
scattered across the stone floor
and at the far end
the open double doors;
then, you may notice
the recycled iron hooks hammered
into the central crossbeam.
Six of them, newly installed
by the blacksmith who carried out
the instruction insisting
with a shake of his head
they were mounted too high
for halters and bridles.
You won’t hear the children’s
laughter as they clamber over
the combine harvester in the yard
or see Sissy McGillivray, framed
in the kitchen door on baking day,
wipe her hands on her apron,
call them in for lemonade.
Ipatiev House, July 1918
Some days, we're allowed a quiet hour
in the garden. The girls and I sit on the grass,
pearls and diamonds stitched into our corsets.
Alyoshenka dozes, confined to his wheelchair
since the sledding accident on the stairs at Tobolsk.
Yevgeny says he will never walk again.
Beneath palsied poplars, birches and limes,
Nicholas paces the pine palisade, split planks
imprisoning the Voznessenski Street property.
My husband has aged, trim beard streaked grey.
He never wanted to be Tsar.
I search the sky for sun-grazing comets,
the pattern and movement of cumulus clouds,
some divine sign from Our Friend, Rasputin.
A murder of crows recedes on dark wings,
cleaving light, fleeing our fated daguerreotype,
a strangled screech taking seed in my throat.
Note: In April 1918, Tsar Nicholas II, Tsarina Alexandra, their five children and four retainers were confined to Ipatiev House in Yekaterinburg. On 17 July 1918, the Romanov family and their servants were murdered by Bolsheviks in the house's basement and their corpses buried in an unmarked grave outside the Siberian town.
The Recalcitrant Muse
Sunlight blisters through moth-eaten curtains.
In her mildewed apartment high above the city,
the Muse stumbles out of bed, stubs her toe
in the kitchen as she fumbles for a cigarette,
reheats last night’s coffee and loneliness,
gulps it down dark, bitter, thick with grounds
that refuse to dissolve her tongue’s furred lining.
She is late for the morning’s first appointment
with a middle-aged divorcée at 52 East Avenue.
It’s not all it’s cracked up to be, this muse business.
She’s tired of being aloof, untouchable.
Give me strong hands, warm flesh, a hairy chest,
a plunging prick, fucking on the formica table.
She could use a drink. A few hours’ sleep.
Immortality doesn’t pay the bills.