Helen Dunmore

Image by Caroline Forbes

The Deciphering

The Deciphering

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

Helen Dunmore Reading from her poems

1I owned a woman once

2Glad of these times

3City lilacs

4Wild strawberries

5Extract from translation of Piers Plowman

6Bristol Docks

7Jacob's drum

8Those shady girls

9A cow here in the June meadow

10In the Desert Knowing Nothing

11Poem on the Obliteration of 100,000 Iraqi Soldiers

12Dolphins whistling

13The grey lilo

14Patrick I

15Mr Lear's ring

16The butcher's daughter

17That violet-haired lady

18To Virgil


20The sea skater

21Three Ways of Recovering a Body

22The surgeon husband

23The Silent Man in Waterstone's




27The Deciphering

28May voyage

Books by Helen Dunmore