When a silence came,
it was your heart not beating.
When the door hushed, it was
the shuffle of a midwife leaving
us alone in our private grief. A muffled clanging
ten yards down the corridor was the news breaking and
unbreaking in the ﬁling cabinet.
When the black biro rolled, it was me
falling and falling into myself.
When the door
clicked shut behind us, it was the end
of all the silences there were.
They left us
in the busiest corridor in the hospital.
I thought I was hurt in my body only
not knowing that
when your body sleeps
your mind feels all those kicks
in your round stomach before you wake
and the whole world goes numb.
Where are the sleepsuits, the scratch mitts, the car seat?
Where are the bassinet, the basket, and the bag?
Where are the bath, the playmat, and the pillow?
Is this the right corridor? Is this the right room?
Where are the smiling faces and the nodding heads?
Where are the screenshots and the photographs?
Where are your heartbeats and your small breaths?
Is this all there is? Is this all I get?
Where are the smiles, the cards, and well-wishes?
Where are the midnight feeds and midday naps?
Where are the songs? Where are the words?
No flowers: by request
And still they come. The lilies burst
like corpses, waft their death scent
through the open house. A wake
for weeks I am the grave they send
the lilies to. Exhumed and made ready
my body rich with loam I watch them
wither until they rot and stain my clothes
until with my own hands I have to leave
them in the garden to sink into the soil
the coffin-brown lid of the compost bin
nailed shut by midwives’ hands, florists’
smiles, black biros waiting for a signature.
I carry you to our first bed, honoured
by guarded women who avert
their wisdom and whisper You soon
forget the pain. It’s worth it.
In the end. I lie back and think of you.
An expectant hush turns all heads towards
the cotton veil and there you are. Dressed
in your ﬁnest vernix, you only have eyes for me.
You have my eyes, my hands, my hair.
You are the declaration of love.
You are the dowry, the wedding gift,
the vows, the midnight dancing.
The room is awash with paediatricians
and surgeons. They cut and stitch like fishermen,
gut and clean like fishermen’s wives. Your father
plucks you from their blue-green sea, your skin
still salmon-pink from the struggle, and when
he kisses you for the first time all at once, his eyes
fill with the knowledge of the whole world in his hands.
9 Prefatory note
13 Sounds of that day
14 Ubi Sunt
15 Hospital Canteen
16 The grave diggers
17 No flowers: by request
19 Month’s Mind
21 Silent Movie
22 Your name
23 Starry Night
24 Hermit Crab
26 Easter Sunday
29 After birth
31 Treasure island
33 Caledonian sleeper
34 Ships in the night
35 Minute and far away
36 Soft spot
37 Fully Comp
40 equilibrium (noun)
41 Aqua vitae
44 Conditions of Sale
50 Picking oakum
51 Loch Ness
54 Today is a day for other people’s stories
55 Baby blanket
56 Marlﬁeld House
57 The Wanderers
58 The ducks
60 On the cusp
62 While the others are away
64 Nita, Sri Lanka, 2005
65 Brough of Birsay, Orkney
66 Mother, Nature
68 Tree frog
69 Our neck of the woods
71 Maternity leave