4am, you’re called to the blindness of a country night
where you only tell the mute space of your eyes,
awkward tread, formless breath.
The farmhouse is lit: a cage of day. Every lamp
and overhead jammed on, the unshakeable light
of a hundred suns. The white haired man’s
vertical in the middle of the room, eyes popped
of meaning like a baked fish. Red hands covering
his mouth in the first fresh jump of shock,
though the florist’s van came in daylight, innocent,
at the regular hour of eight. ‘Why’d you wait so long
to call?‘ ‘There were more than I’d reckoned.‘
The room’s bright as a butcher’s shop with blooms.
Not blooms, not flowers. Wrought, dyed, compressed
funeral wreaths. Dense, satin-sashed circles,
and one spelling his name in rusty chrysanths.
It’s propped on his straight chair, another’s laid
on the bed, another on the sports section
at the folding table, more overwhelm the floor.
Tight daisies in fanciful blue, salmony pink,
hawkish yellow, heaving the scent and stickiness
of God’s nature, amassed beyond wonder.
The colours of Gabriel’s miraculous, oily wings
(as fleshed out by men). You take your cap off,
bedazzled at the light, at this man’s funeral
and the man not dead. You walk the creaking wreaths,
pretending notes, pour Grappa to restore his voice,
bag them like bodies, flick switches one by one
to a dim bedside lamp, so as you step out into the cold
the moon reasserts itself calmly on stones,
the natural order of things. But as you drive,
you can’t shake the image of the man slunk in his chair
– crazy – refusing to wake his brothers or tell a soul
of this visitation. The daylight and angels and wreaths
are his – whatever crime he may or may not have done –
as if he conjured each flower himself; he stinks of them.
The same as if 14-year-old Mary had gone running
to Elizabeth, broad-sided by her elaborate tale, saying
it was nothing of her idea and she’d as soon forget it.
Too late. Already the gold congeals above her head,
and Elizabeth’s eyeing her warily, her flesh
and blood womb leaping in fear.
On the main road the dawn develops, grey
as sanity, the town is a host of cool witnesses
waking, and as you turn into your lane
there’s an almighty rightness you’re still
clinging to a month on
when news of his death is delivered.
from Broken Sleep (Bloodaxe, 2009), © Sally Read 2009, used by permission of the author and the publisher