A Proud Blemish
The year I graduate from size eights,
learn to walk in the grown man’s shoes
contradicting the diminutive frame
I parade across the Arndale estate:
2step is an airborne sickness, infecting
every discerning cassette deck,
after-hours wine bar, joy rider's car.
Most weekends I try to fool a woman
accustomed to the lies of men, sneak home
an hour shy of her footfall in the hallway,
to rehearse my lines: I was home…I just
…didn’t hear the phone, the beep
of the answering machine, her repeating
my name till it’s a prayer, voice two parts
ire, one despair, that her days are riven
between shift patterns and her only son.
By the time I graduate size nines, understand
Caesarean, when she answers my question:
did it hurt? shows me the dark groove hidden
under her work shirt, a proud blemish in skin
rippled with ridges from weight loss, she knows
it’s not stress. Still we sit, lumps in throats,
wait on tests. They don't know what’s wrong
she says, next day she’s back to underground
tunnels, thousands riding the same choppy waves.
Soon she’s too weak to walk or wash herself.
The bones of her skull vitiate a face that once
stunned grown men into mumbling stupors.
On a grey ward, two months in to size elevens,
she speaks in my mother tongue, begs me trace
the steps of its music, but the discord of two
languages keeps me from the truth I won’t hear.
She’s dying but I won’t call her dead, can’t let mum
become: a body, a stone, an empty hospital bed.