By the time fires exploded south
to the city’s edge
we had already sealed the windows
Breathing stenched air, we spilled
the last of the garden water
against the boles of our trees
calling their names:
lilac, plum, dogwood,
cedar, sequoia, copper beech,
a final gesture, useless perhaps
but the names tasted sweet
inside our masks, innocent
as the words of a hymn
learned in childhood
all things bright and beautiful
all creatures great and small
and we carried their names
with us on the highway to nowhere
as we walked into the years
Who shall remember my house, where
shall live my children’s children…
-T. S. Eliot, “A Song for Simeon”
Old photos in a box, print after print, stories
missing of those who entered the frames
then stepped away, shaking off memory
misstep, faded joy.
Great-grandpa, six months old
sitting in a high pram frowning into his future.
Auntie Nell dancing on the table through the gin
flinging skirts like Gracie Fields
war songs louder than the sound of gunfire
in the sands of Libya where Uncle Alf fell.
In another province, two brothers not speaking
voices lost to each other, memory subtracted
and here, a niece broken by judgment
dismissed to hell by an old man
and old woman.
What was done, then undone years and years ago.
Dancer, baby, the man standing, the old woman
trying to smile in a photo yellowed at the edges—
stories written on my eye
and blood, my bone.
Mistress of the only dépanneur
in the neighbourhood
you might have opened your knees
for the man who stopped for a treat
mummy’s sharp eye winking yes
from an antique frame over the cash.
You could’ve lifted your skirt
in the back room.
You might’ve been the one
for him, you might’ve been
if only you’d worn the years more
to your advantage,
ripe breasts inside your apron
full of kindness, sweet milk of
for a gentleman who licks ice cream
and craves love.
But you grew too fat, didn’t you?
stockings rolled, thick ankles, ringlets
uncurled to straw, not even your shadow
fit into the rat-hole
because you kept on eating
And now rose-light lady
blousy in the late of an open door
your street lies a-dust with all
that echoes decades down.