by ANNE SAVAGE
Memory and time embed in flesh,
in dreaming and waking grow together,
enfold so intimately, so direly patterned
and darkly encrypted.
Yet something has begun
to make sense across the eons:
like an old hand at observing
tree rings or layers of fossils,
I say yes, here are life and death
emerging, shaped, readable.
I can see you on the inside of my eyes,
your smile wry with humour at some small kindness
meaning so much to me, or at the irony
of your poem about cigarettes
slowly dying in strange places,
which colours my memory of your voice
in the last conversation with you
through your oxygen mask.
You were heading into manhood leaving me behind
uselessly young. Instead you disappeared into death,
leaving me behind
After the heavy flowers of mourning in your parents’ house,
my eyes on the deep red rug and fallen petals,
in my ears the alien murmuring of adults,
there was nothing in the future at all.
Over decades I dreamed
that memory was a mistake:
you’d lived, your life was good.
But the hateful balance was restored:
you’d just died now. I could feel glad
you’d had those years of life,
though somehow I’d missed them, then
I’d wake in the memory of the heavy air,
white petals on red carpet,
losing you again.
Not long ago,
in the middle of some other dream
I bumped into you in London,
as old as you would be now.
We ate lunch in a grimy cafeteria,
laughing at how old we both were,
with such pleasure, such deep happiness,
and, when we parted, a great joy I’d never known.
You lifted me up high like a child as we said goodbye.
Then I was telling someone about it,
and unwillingly remembered your funeral,
the flowers weighing on me in your parents’ house,
and I woke up.
But so it was I was with you again,
that you grew old with me, and lifted me up,
that there was something I hadn’t altogether missed
as I’d always believed.
After you died
I watched the sapling in my parents’ yard
grow for the few years until I left.
When I drive by the old place now
it’s tall with flaming autumn leaves
and branches stirring powerfully in the cold wind.
The grief you planted for me has borne leaves each season,
became a house with green walls and spring light,
a place to watch winter stars rise and fall on sleepless nights,
as kind as my old farmhouse with its symphonic
frogs and crickets, night owls and dawn birds,
my safe house at last.
This grief has grown into my pulse, the rhythms
I run for miles along country roads;
to this the horses have set their trot.
My unborn babies heard it in their red den.
A strange gift to me,
a strange inheritance for my children,
this grief, but rich.
Anne Savage has had the privilege to teach at several universities in Britain and Canada, and has been at McMaster in the Department of English and Cultural Studies since 1989, with a focus on medieval literature and science fiction. In her youth and twenties she published some poems, and after a period of adjustment filled with raising children and grading essays she is again finding a space from which to write poetry and fiction. “Everything looks way different from this end”.