You’re wondering why my light’s still on—twenty-
Four years straight, twenty again before that—
Why should I write when you sleep right down the hall?
Why not say it? You know that’s not our way.
Ours is the way of silence, the whole day strung
To signs: the quiet nod over morning eggs,
A table set the night before, the quick
Goodbye on bright front steps, alternating
Grills/baked meats, the changing of channels from grey
To grey. Why take the pen when I could say it?
Not just the sheer unlikelihood of ever
Really speaking, but also via such cross-outs
And deletions I may myself begin
To understand. You know I love you—whatever
That may mean. That may be what they say
In shops, seeing us together, what those
Who know may think, seeing me with mop
And bucket now your bones turn brittle. Outside
These walls you’re the absolute old lady, white-haired,
Kind, a lovely piece of porcelain
Fragility—and so you are to me,
A little worn with what might seem a close
Acquaintance but why else am I here at fifty?
Did you one day think I could have wished
For something different: a home hung white with napkins
On a winter afternoon, a floorful of
Toys to trip up on, a flat of my own to try
Remaindered women, a place to sit up late
With friends? Don’t think, Mother, I don’t know how
You organise your mind—T’s too shy,
Too broken by the war; four bleak years
In Stalag 17, too late to try
Uncharted waters now; better moored
And let the currents roll on up the coast
Than risk the tricky tides of others’ love.
Besides, I hear you stop yourself from thinking,
What about me? A house should have a man.
Father gave up early; there was a space
To fill; I came back from the war; the job
Was mine. Twenty-five years of slowly freezing
Over. At first I used to think of them—
Typists in daydreams, easing their legs apart;
Even at times the more fantastic step
Of signing names in cheap hotels downtown.
(I’m sorry, Mother, I’ll drop this bit next draft
This warm indecent talk is in poor taste
Although, like every widow’s son, I conjure
How, unthinkably, you must have moved
Between the sheets so many years ago.)
Enough of that. The point is, Mother, I cannot
Bear the shape of disappointment in
Your eyes. Escape hangs off the margin. My gaze
Goes to the wardrobe top, the case with its troopship
Tag. But walking with it down the hall
And past your ferns in early morning light …
You would not even need to break your sleep.
But to be fair, I know you could be right.
I live by ritual, by channels and
Procedures: the bus trip either way, the evening
Television (what did we do before that?),
The bachelor bed, its fine singularity.
Clubs and dinner invitations (if
They came) could only jolt routine. In fact
We feed each other—the gift of ritual.
But to return. There is a widow at
The office now who dreams of something human
In me still. So far, smiles and politeness
Only, of course, but somehow she lets me know
It might … Not greatly given to fantasy
(As you know), I try to see her in
This house (Aunt Ada’s room) then contemplate
My suitcase, the impossible walk down the hall. Don’t worry
Too much, Mother, I wouldn’t call it love—
Just a glimpsed horizon. As for sex,
That seems so brief and so far back I’d have
To learn again. Her warmth is more in spirit
Than the loins. Her smile’s the thing. I know
You’re still awake down there, watching this late
Reflected light fill up the glass above
Your door. Four nights now—and yet no question.
We ritualists are strong on privacy.
I’ll check this just once more for truth, then stow
It in my drawer. One morning soon, I swear it,
Mother, you’ll find out why this light burns late;
You’ll find just once the breakfast call unanswered,
These two neat sheets of paper in your plate.
© Geoff Page