The Harm

On the walk to school you have stopped
at the one significant lamppost, just to be sure
(if you’re late where’s the harm?),
and are tracing the cut of the maker’s name in raised print
and yes, you are certain it is still ticking,
softly ticking where it stands on the corner
 
opposite McCaul’s corner-
shop. Not that you had expected it to stop.
At worst, all you’ll get from the teacher is a good ticking
off. When it goes off, and you are sure
it will be soon, this metal panel with its neat square print
will buckle like the lid of Pandora’s tin and harm
 
will blow from the mechanical heart, harm
in a wild cacophony of colour. A car takes the corner
as you start to cross and the driver’s face imprints
itself on your mind forever, a whitened mask, as he stops
a hair’s breadth from the sure
and quickened ticking
 
of your child’s heart – a little clock or timer ticking.
‘For God’s sake stay on the pavement out of harm’s
way!’ the woman who grabs you says. ‘Sure
haven’t you been told how to cross a road? This corner
has already seen the death of my daughter. Stop
and look, and look both ways!’ She prints
 
her grip on your thin bare arm, the sour imprint
of alcohol on her too-close breath. Then the ticking
of a wheel, as a man on a bicycle slows to a stop,
dismounts, and tells her ‘It’s okay Mary, there’s no harm
done.’ He leads her from the corner,
talking in her ear, ‘It’s alright Mary. Yes, yes, I am sure.’
 
He motions with his eyes for you to leave but, unsure,
you wait, frozen by the lamppost, the lettering print-
ing ridges in your palm, until you run at last to the opposite corner
and walk to the school, the woman’s words still ticking
in your head, her notion of harm
and the thought of her daughter, unable to stop
 
missing school. You are sure, as sure as the ticking
lamppost is a bomb, its timer on, of harm, printed
forever on the corner where the woman’s world has stopped.

from Self-Portrait in the Dark (Picador, 2008), © Colette Bryce 2008, used by permission of the author and the publisher

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