About the poet
Helen Dunmore (b. 1952) is the second of four children, her father the eldest of twelve. As she...
How busy we are with the dead in their infancy,
who are still damp with the sweat of their passing,
whose hair falls back to reveal a scar.
We think of wiping their skin, attending them
in the old way, but are timid, ignorant.
We walk from the high table where they are laid
leaving their flesh royally mounded
just as they have left it
for the undertakers to cherish.
We consider the last kiss,
the taste and the grain of it.
The lift doors squeeze open, then shut.
All day we think that we have lost our car keys.
There is a feeling in the back of the mind
as we eat a meal out on the balcony
but the door refuses to open
although my sisters have prepared food elaborately
you do not advance to us, smiling.
The children have put sauce on the side of their plates
thinking you will come and swipe a chip,
thinking this meal is one you cooked
as always, humming to yourself in the kithen,
breaking off to tap the barometer
and watch starlings roost on the pier.
how long it takes to stop being busy with that day,
each second of it like the shard
of a pot which someone has laboured to dig up
and piece together without the knowledge
or language or context.
Slow, slow, the deciperhing.
uncollected poem, © Helen Dunmore 2010, used by permission of the author
Helen Dunmore Reading from her poems