Mother was the whole house vexed foot tapping on a faded rug carrying her voice across the room to scream word-rubble on my head penetrating scalp until You are no good rang true as brick walls shook with rage moved up fat legs beneath a skirt about to fly she mowed down chairs thrown to four corners of the world I’d give to make her loving when she kicks the cushions at the table laid with my confusion plates piled high with disappointment every fork a two-pronged mind I want to care but cannot stand her lack of patience throws my pleading out the window shatters explanations on my head held down as she attempts to raise the roof above the attic filled with her left-over rage she’s packed away compassion folded it in hate the chimney blocked with curses as I beg for love but what’s the point she’ll always be a door closed tight.
derived from the Indo-European root swen: to sound, to sing
Looking up. My mother. Refusing soup again. Lips tighter than the neat wound in her throat. Dark brown stoma.
Setting sun beneath soft folds of skin. She points towards the window. Light along a downy arm.
It falls onto the bed. Boys crowd near a school gate. Danger in the way they sound. Loud as her next breath.
She smiles to show she likes their noise. More than she has made in years. Not since daddy died. Tumour or enchantment?
On that day. Weird bird. Stretched neck. She called his name. Her voice lost all its English grace. Hard won. In grief.
She was Jamaican once again. The vowels submerged. Syllables called out for help. Repeating God. Speech fell.
Head back on the pillow now. Boys fade to a murmur. Far side of the road. She wants the window open more.
Points above the bed. Drift of swans in sepia. I know she’d like to say. Your father. Ballet of all things.
Black man in a bus conductor’s uniform. Dance became his saviour that first winter. Hire purchase screen. Reflective as a lake.
His way to bear the shock of snow and England. Offering closed doors until an attic room. Snug as vermin roamed.
In ’65. Fontyn. Swan necked. He was mesmerised. Green-eyed. Mummy lost her voice. Arms shrieking as he waved her quiet.
Had to hear each note. Regard each pas de deux. Hummed the theme the day he died. Last halting words. Story of a woman
cast beneath a magic spell. Now mummy stretches her weird neck. Looks towards the light. I know she wants to say. Your father.
Ugly Close to Sleep
We were silenced by her old age mouth set loose between lines gouged in cheeks she cheered to make her children weep though she was once demure before truth-telling gave a breathless shape to final days made her a lethal trap great gaping hole of missing teeth refusing all things false when that was how we got through Christmas calling her three daughters fat aiming laughter at plump hands as food fell back to plates her son puffed up with his two houses caved as we were told he wet the bed up to the age of twelve might not be his father’s son a man she never liked much less loved in thirty years of haterimony barked a laugh to say his need for drink grew more intense towards the end when we believed he had reformed her final diagnosis saw her wage war on two siblings doubled over canes accusing them of suffering their mother’s madness just before she ran away we thought she had died young I feared my turn but spared to write this down she said I would be damned to hell called it her new home if I used words like sweet said she suffered from dementia just because she saved the worst for her own body named a rag hair loose thread skin balding velvet she was ugly close to sleep with seven dwarves named Dirty Envy Fussy Give Me Greedy Needy Wanty a new priest tried to bless her in the church she spat You are God’s fool and prayers are used up tissues no one understood why lying down she cursed the bloody ceiling as too close
The author has no competing interests to declare.