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Still Life

February 1, 2010

by Dick Jones

Each morning they organise your bones
into the wheelchair, stack you leaning
out of kilter. Thus I find you, wall-eyed,

feather pulse and mouth ajar. This is
a stillness you are learning as silence
silts up your blood. I name you: ‘Mum’,

I call, quietly at first, as if this were
only sleep and you might resent the passage
interrupted. But your shade is walking

a broken road on the far side of dreams.
I keep my coat on, lean in the doorway,
breathing in the alkalines and salts

that are your presence in this world.
Beyond, through narrow windows, rain
drifts like smoke. The trees shift

their high shoulders, hefting their leaves
like heroes. I can see the lift and fall
of their evergreen breath, the slow,

dispassionate pulse. Such senseless beauty,
propping up the sky as if there were no
tides turning or falling stars, no ashes to dust,

no time at all. You speak — a half-word,
cracked in the middle. Syllables drift
like fumes. Somewhere in that steam

of meaning, the filaments of memory:
the horn’s tip of a lover’s moon,
a song’s dust, the eye’s tail catching,

not quite catching, doorway phantoms,
window ghosts. Grief crosses my mind:
its hydrogen release — from local pain

to lachrymae rerum, all in one ball
of fire. Easy, it would be to cauterise
this lassitude, here against the lintel,

watching not the rise and fall of your
fish-breath, your insect pulse, but
the immortal trees beyond. Too easy;

but death looked in and turned away,
indifferent, and now it’s down to me,
the blood-bearer, to wish away your life

for you. The house ticks and hums.
A voice calls out, thin and querulous;
another coughs. I turn down your light.

There, against the window, dusk outside,
you are becoming your shadow
cast against the shifting of the trees.

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Dick Jones blogs at Patteran Pages and has placed poems in such magazines as Orbis, The Interpreter’s House, Poetry Ireland Review,  Westwords, Mipoesias, Three Candles and Other Poetry.

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  1. Peg zBainbridge
    February 1, 2010 at 1:12 pm

    Oh my god…my father, too. This is beauty made from broken things.

  2. February 1, 2010 at 1:21 pm

    The tone of this poem, observed from that doorway, as it were, makes it all the more moving, especially for those of us who’ve also stood there. A very fine one, Dick.

  3. February 1, 2010 at 3:51 pm

    I so love it, Dick–such pain but finely sliced, such love but craftily muted and such symphony of feelings on a grand scale–a poem I wish were mine. Thank you for writing it for me.

  4. Lisken
    February 1, 2010 at 6:38 pm

    I find the first couple of stanzas particularly powerful – lovely work.

  5. February 2, 2010 at 1:23 pm

    Spot on, Dick.

  6. February 2, 2010 at 7:36 pm

    A really moving & vivid piece–this is strong stuff, & the sort of poem one would welcome returning to as a reader.

  7. February 3, 2010 at 11:30 am

    A very moving poem. A little hard to read, as I am moving my 96-year-old mother into assisted living this week.

  8. February 4, 2010 at 2:37 am

    Many thanks, everyone, for the positive comments. It’s good to know that the poem speaks to you.

  9. rallentanda
    February 4, 2010 at 6:10 am

    ‘And now it’s down to me the blood bearer to wish away your life’

    A very moving and honest account of an inevitable situation for all of us in the future.We live in a cruel and heartless society that places no value on the aged at the end of their days.Race horses put out to pasture are treated much better.

  10. February 4, 2010 at 7:28 am

    Yes, this is amazing, Dick. Spot on.

  11. February 4, 2010 at 12:30 pm

    Again, my thanks, Ralletanda and Leslee, for the responses to the poem. With the recent publication of alarming statistics concerning dementia amongst the old in Britain, it’s accidentally very topical.

  12. February 5, 2010 at 10:58 pm

    This is the sort of poem that hushes a room. Listening to you read it, all the sounds and garble around me drop away.

  13. February 6, 2010 at 3:15 am

    Well, that comes as cherished praise, Becky. Thank you. I read the poem because Dave asks me to, not because I feel any great urgency to wrap my voice around it. In fact, after having listened to a first playback to check for accuracy, I never tune in again.

    As to your reception of the poem itself, I’m sorely tempted to masquerade as ‘Richenda Jones’ and submit to Cherry Pie Press! No luck so far on the collection or even chapbook front.

  14. February 10, 2010 at 10:45 pm

    Let me know, please, when the chapbook happens. cherrypiepress@yahoo.com

  15. Jeff Klooger
    February 12, 2010 at 5:02 am

    I think you have written a wonderful poem, Dick. The accumulation of images of insubstantiality conveys so well the feeling of life slipping away, and the impossibility of either opposing or accelerating the process. It reads like a portrait of death as one prolonged and fading exhalation. There is grief as well, but no energy to do anything with it – and what could you do, except to make this poem, which is a fine thing.

    I will watch for more of your work.

  16. Catherine Jagoe
    February 12, 2010 at 1:02 pm

    This is so beautiful; you’ve captured that knife edge between anguish and dispassion. Thank you.

  17. February 19, 2010 at 10:48 pm

    I know the feeling. Thank you for capturing it.

  18. March 3, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    I’ve read your poem again, perhaps by now two dozen times. And finish it each time with an image to help me ‘cauterise’ not my ‘lassitude’ but my pains. Living and dying layer it up yet with each re-casting of how these shift in the light–your poem for one–pains turned into ‘still life’ have brought with it their own worth. Thank you for such compelling images.

  19. March 8, 2010 at 6:15 am

    The chapbook is merely a folder on desktop at present, Becky. Just as soon as I can persuade a publisher to take it on I shall trumpet the fact from the rooftops!

    Many thanks, Jeff. That’s a very pleasing response to the poem and I shall look forward to future contact.

    Thank you, Catherine. That’s the balance I hoped to achieve and I’m gratified that it’s worked for you.

    To know that a representation of these circumstances is shared in spirit is a two-way comfort so thank you for your response, Robbi.

    My thanks again, Alegria.

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