Thursday, January 19, 2012

stewart henderson | in the parlour

I only knew her old, and her house with its parlour polished raw
‘because God can see in the dark’.
Dense furniture to weigh weary the spirit and disapproving curtains–
even anything that had colour, hadn’t. So rainbows never called
or circuses,
and parrots were just daft –
it was a room in which to be tethered and bleak.
The best china was never used
because that would be frivolous and wasteful
and something could get chipped.
Outside in the hall, the ramrod grandfather clock
was a ticking sentry, measuring Time’s slow march steps.

I only knew her old
when she darned the days with hate.
She hated Clement Atlee because he was ‘a posh socialist’
she hated Catholics because she observed most of them were short.
She hated all forms of alcohol,
which she described as horse’s piss – but how did she know,
if she’d never tasted either liquid – and if she had,
it may have been just a bad pint or
a stallion with a kidney infection?

She hated tobacco, so a woman with a cigarette was damned
but a man wasn’t – he was just filthy.
She hated gambling, but she did the football pools,
which wasn’t gambling.
She also hated
Haile Selassie, Wilfred Pickles and the first Moon landing.
But she did like dogs – she had several,
all of them madder than Crippen.

All this hate meant that by the age of sixteen,
I was reading impenetrable left-wing books, and
drinking and smoking, and sneaking into Mass, and
getting a mate to place bets on The Grand National.
I also developed a huge affection for Ethiopian emperors,
Yorkshire broadcasters, and the Sea of Tranquillity;
and I became frightened of dogs.
She had the same birthday as Hitler, and there were days
when I used to think: ‘poor Hitler’.

I only knew her old, when life, for her, was about
the dwindling of days, and cataracts, and heavy coats in Summer
and the Pope being ecumenical on television,
and, an even worse abomination for her, a Labour government.

I only knew her old.
I did not see her hurled across the classroom by a teacher,
causing one of her little fingers to snap
(it ever after resembling the shape of a wish bone
pointing back into her palm – a penance of deformity, although
she would never use the word ‘penance’ as that was Papist.)
I did not see her after that incident, when her father
then took his belt to her because
he said she must have deserved it.

I was not there when she lost two babies in childbirth,
and a couple of husbands, and then another child.

I was there, though, when her son suddenly became a ghost,
and her siren grief made next door draw their curtains shut.
Maybe that was the day when love was finally looted from her.

I only knew her old,
and, at the end,
in her room, in her breathless bed,
when she left for somewhere
where I hoped she wouldn’t be old
or beaten
or stooped with hate.

Copyright Stewart Henderson. Must not be copied or reproduced without the author's permission. To do so is to infringe UK copyright law.