What happened that afternoon? I cannot
remember: no clear sound of your voice,
not one single word or gesture
remain as evidence to ponder
from what I did not know
was the last time I would see you alive.
Ordinary desultory talk;
your room was warm, though only April.
There was another visitor, so
nothing personal was said, nothing
to prick the memory like a burr
you cannot tear from inside your shirt.
Better such pain than a vacant mind
with no power of recall.
I could scream: which might stop me reliving,
over and over, what happened next:
how the shrill phone dragged me from sleep
in the small hours; how I did not arrive
in time; how your hand stiffened and chilled
in mine and your face paled; how I pushed
aside the oxygen mask though the nurse
who brought me a drink had said to leave it
so your jaw would not drop – I remember that.
And then the final kiss.
Somewhere Else Entirely
Where did you sleep last night,
where did you sleep? I feel
we spent the night together,
but when I wake, always
earlier than the alarm
is set, you’re never here.
Strange, the empty bed.
I scan the other rooms
and though I seem to remember
an evening like one of hundreds
of evenings spent together –
so many years together –
peaceful evenings, each
of us at our desk, the sense
of someone else in the ﬂat,
you in your room; then
going to bed: affection,
Now everything is different.
I walk along the hall,
enter each room, uneasy,
seeking, but ﬁnd no sign….
Although every room
retains so many memories,
sounds and images, is
saturated with your essence,
I know I’ll never meet you here….
Where you sleep, day and night,
is dark and cold and silent:
somewhere else entirely.
Meditations on Yellow
Morning sunlight streaking through the blind
lit the jagged scratch from a roller-skate
in the kitchen floor’s jazz-patterned lino
which I filled with putty and tried to hide
with my art-school oil-paints in every shade
of tan and brown, cream and yellow.
Yellow batter my aunt would swirl
– as if the gesture granted magical power –
in the mixing bowl tilted at an angle;
the acid-yellow of her lemon meringue.
Pallid chicken feet made the soup gelatinous,
discs of golden fat floating on its surface.
Such glowing yellow: the colour
of a slice of corn bread, toasted, spread
with canary-yellow butter, cheddar
cheese or thick amber honey.
That greeny glint on a ﬂask
of vivid gamboge-yellow olive oil.
Clusters of mimosa, its powdery yellow
ﬂower-heads hardening into grainy globes,
sprouted from the pewter-smooth boughs
of the tree outside our house in France.
Later we found a grove of them, and you
thinned it out for the cooking stove.
Yellow of the daffodils I helped my friend
to pick, then carefully wrap in tissue paper
for the man who bought them. After staring
down the trumpets of hundreds, what revulsion
I felt at the repetition of sepal and stamen,
all that mechanism of reproduction.
The Fiat Eco Panda was custard yellow.
In the slow lane on the motorway I came
closest to death when a white van smashed
into the side of your car and I ricocheted
like a crash dummy. But we both stepped,
resurrected, from the crumpled yellow metal.
This morning, walking down the mews,
I peeled fallen leaves off the damp cobbles:
amber, copper, cordovan tan,
all the autumn yellows. Some were soft
as chamois gloves or straw-coloured silk,
others crisp as starched cotton.
‘High yellow’: politically incorrect;
but where I grew up, meant a beautiful girl
with African, English, Native American
and probably Chinese and Mexican, blood.
My lineage (barring some pogroms), is simple:
Ashkenazy unmixed. Just right for a yellow star.
Yellow was the colour of those curtains
my dear friend gave me. A slubbed heavy
silk of sulphurous Buddhist yellow.
So long ago: that child-murder, self-murder.
Sad beautiful creatures, mother and daughter,
two wraiths on the far shore of Lethe.
Yellow is the flaring solar centre
you must not stare into – or be
forever blind as Oedipus, or cursed
as mad king Croesus: who starved
to death when all he touched,
child, flower or food, hardened to gold.
11 Meditations on Yellow
12 Late Spring Evening in the Suburbs
14 The Ides of March
16 The Motorway
17 In the Square
17 i Snowdrops
18 ii The Choice
19 Oxygen Mask
20 Alan’s Jacket
21 Somewhere Else Entirely
22 A Meeting with My Dead
28 Empty Space
31 The Red Shirt
32 Blind Love
33 Inside a Yellow Laburnum Tent…
34 Chestnut in Spring
36 The Playground
37 Ladbroke Square Notes
38 The Jungle
39 The Log
40 Westward Streaming Cloud
43 Hunter’s Moon
44 At the Allotment
45 Ars Anatomica
47 World Events
48 Time and Function
49 Timeless Waters
51 The Next Station
53 The Poet’s Funeral
57 At Baker Street Underground Station
59 A Republican Tale
62 Male and Female Created He Them
63 What Ails Thee, Santa?
64 Madame Lavitte
65 Three Men
68 …only then
70 The Mother
71 The Difference
72 Art and Action
73 New Year Wish
77 A Living Creature
81 The Grand Concourse
83 Tightrope Walkers
87 My First Library
90 The Scratch
93 The Dove Dress
98 The Graduation Dress
100 Malted Milk
'Ruth Fainlight has always been a painterly poet, sensuous and observant, who has paid particular attention to myth as it shapes destiny or gives meaning…the reader is aware of images being thought and felt through, the mind winding itself into narratives, prompted now by pain, now loss, now keen pleasure.' – George Szirtes, Times Literary Supplement
‘Her voice can be cutting as well as lyrical… Fainlight is terrific on the subject of ageing.’ – Helen Dunmore, Poetry Review
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