134 The Cruellest Month

He arrived, in a blue January twilight

At this great space: this measureless pavilion, epic

And austere.  Within it (lost), the murmurings of

Still-beating hearts: microcosms, these, as if a thousand

Dew-drops where, in a day, seasons of life and death were

Played out – intimate, ephemeral, unacknowledged.


At the big door he baulked; merely a novice, in this

Cathedral for the dying. One of the Sisters glanced:

He blanched, and lowered his gaze.

In upper wards the satellite channels prattled,

Television by the dead, for the dead.  But not down here.

Here there was silence without dignity, at a time

When dignity was all there was to cling to.

Here was a mollusc of metal and puny plastic filaments,

A reticulated organism, perhaps; at whose numerous

Intersections little gobbets of flesh might move and stir,

Punctuated from time to time by sacs of brownish fluid.


In the corner, with a head

Like a busted bag, the elegant lady

He knew, twenty years since, from an evening

Watercolour class.  Somebody senile fell back from

Ranting at an extinct cousin.  But first, dear Reader, to bedside

Watch.  There’s no response, as (quiet as a choirboy)

He folds his coat, and perches on it.  At length

He says, “Would you like to hear some nice news

About me?”   Pause, and the rattle of distant tea trolleys.

Finally she says, “We’ve been waiting thirty-nine years.”


At this moment it is evident that,

Contrary to all prior intimations, Elvis has not

Left the building.  As for the seated one, his back

Makes a low arc and, as if to himself, he murmurs,

“Now I know you’re going to be all right.”


23 The Departed


~ by Stephen Jackson on September 19, 2014.

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