POEM: Still life with Frenchman, dog and grandmother


Charles Aznavour is crooning about loss
and existence and loneliness and wine,
and other Gallic national concerns

and Tommy is sunning his golden fur
on checkerboard flagstones, turning over
methodically, every half hour

and my grandmother is staring at the
murky world in front of her milky eyes
saying (to no one in particular):

Before we were married, my husband used
to walk five miles, just to have tea with me.
I was once the village beauty, see.

POEM: The Elder


In memory of my great-grandmother

Marbled rolled beef, veined with crushed peppers,
Raw onions:
Bitter foods.
And you, the elder on those streets
By bus or bicycle
In your furs, hats, and good jewellery;
Our link, our line, our right of passage, of possession:
A scrabbling tribe from furthermost south.
Our English names, our foreign longings,
But you, the matriarch, at home.

An aperitif in the Nordic gloom:
Strong liquor in small glasses.
The lure of the evening news,
The latest royal scandal
Fed on butter and dark rye.
And you pronounced on all you saw:
The son’s weakness. His upright wife, innocence.
Our dramas, or the Queen’s.
Earl Grey tea, subtle fragrance in thin cups,
Served with sugar-cubes, milk, or lemon.
But coffee in a flask, the bitter edge,
Always at hand.

Glass bottles of Martini, schnapps, Ribena for the children;
Pastries sliced half-ways.
Or cheese soufflé, spiced frikkadels:
You’d learnt foreign ways,
Walked the kasbahs, and the Bo-Kaap.
Good shoes could take you anywhere,
But gloves were “too affected”.
A leather cigarette case, sheepskin slippers,
A box of snapshots from Morocco
With one of you, in silhouette.
An amber ring worn through:
Auf wiedersehen, adieu, adieu.