Testing times

14 September 2011 § 9 Comments

Blood work

Someone in a lab
Is looking through a lens
At a smear of blood and lymph.
An anonymous clutch
Of nameless cells
In search of an identity.

A blackthorn snapped off
And driven deep,
Bee-sting, dog-bite,
Barbed-wire tear, unseen blow –
Any of the litany
Of injury attending dogs like him
(Long on legs, short on brain)
Might have forced the flesh to swell
Into the hen’s egg
That now lurks, submarine-sinister
Beneath his velvet skin.

Or something else:

That single drop
From the tablespoonful the syringe drew off
Will tell all.

So we await the blood-work
Wondering what they’ll find
And how much we stand to lose.

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Breakaway

25 July 2011 § 8 Comments

Breaking away

Today
This sunny Sunday lane
Is our own private
Tour parcours
Complete with mimicked Phil-and-Paul
To lend us greater speed:

“And now
The leader
In the Best Young Rider competition
Makes the move
On the inside –

The gap’s opening up –

And the champion
Must respond to this:

He’s digging deep

Let’s not forget
He’s the oldest man
In the race,
So you’ve got to ask;
Has he got the legs
To counter the attack
And close it down
Or are we about to see
A new era ushered in?”

Of course
If I chose
I could go
Straight over the top of her;

But, smiling, I permit
Her cheeky breakaway to succeed
And sit on her wheel;
Training for the big attacks
And moves I cannot answer
In the stages still to come,
Knowing that one day I’ll have to watch her
Head up the road alone.

Written after yesterday’s ride with my 10-year-old daughter, who seems to have inherited my competitive streak on the bike…my fault for encouraging her to watch Le Tour, I guess. For those who haven’t been glued to ITV4 or SKY for the past three weeks, ‘Phil-and-Paul’ are the dynamic commentary duo of Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen, who have been the ‘voices’ of cycling to British fans for over 30 years.

Slipping away

7 July 2011 § 7 Comments

The long farewell

She never leaves this room
But long months
She has not been here.

The girls with their practised smiles,
Brisk words and time-is-money hands
Come and go; each routine visit
The first time they’ve ever met.

And after sixty years
He’s a stranger, too;
Well-known enough
Not to be frightening,
But no longer
The man who wrote her
Two hundred letters from the war,
Gave her three babies
And the happy home her giddy girlhood
Dreams were made of;
Filled and healed her heart
A thousand times for every time
He broke it,
And in their souls’ communion
Washed away the evils
Of the world.

Now she is reborn
Each morning;
Entering anew a world she has never seen
Does not understand
And will not know tomorrow.
A slow, sad unremembering
Until she finally forgets even
To breathe.

Ensemble

25 May 2011 § 7 Comments

Playing for time

Thrown together for a weary Sunday
We dug out flute and fiddle,
Coaxed the stand from its collapsed-umbrella tangle
And played dance music
Nine times older than her ten
And my forty-something years combined.
Splitting first and second parts unselfishly,
Spinning the simple, timeless tunes
From breath and horsehair,
Varnished wood and tarnished silver,
Our thoughts as closely mingled
As our blood.

All too soon
To be in the same room
As me may be
More than she can bear.
But in all the discord
Of our crescendos, fortissimos
And silences where no one’s sure
If they should clap
Or dare to cough
The neutral notes and impartial time
Will be our arbiters;
A shared and secret language for us, free
Of should and shan’t and
Not-while-you’re-under-this-roof-my-girl.
A separate space outside of life
Where all is sweet,
And we can stay in tune.

Back from the dead

25 April 2011 § 10 Comments

Dead lucky

He didn’t know
When he spied the dozen
Cakes left cooling in the kitchen
That underneath its icing
And chirpy chocolate eggs
Each contained
Concealed in its sweetness
Small wrinkled packages
Of death by renal failure:
Just that they were there, unwatched
And within reach
Of his questing needle nose.

A lethal dose
In those few furtive swallows;
A moment’s greed
Became a frantic hour
Of hectic emetics
That proved
Fruitless.

So to the vet’s
Sunday-afternoon silent
Where fair faces and healing hands
Made saviours of simple soda crystals.

The lad rose
And walked away.
And once again on Easter Day
Death
Was made to taste defeat.

Yes, I’m afraid the whippet’s been in the wars again. Yesterday, he stole a couple of my wife’s delicious homemade Easter muffins off the kitchen worktop when we weren’t watching. Trouble was, they contained sultanas, and any grape, fresh or dried, is potentially lethal to dogs when ingested, even in tiny quantities. We couldn’t make him vomit them up, so it was off to the vets, who fortunately are two minutes’ walk away. They took the lad off into a backroom and got some soda crystals down him, which had (from our point of view, if not his) the desired effect. He seems none the worse for his brush with death, thank goodness, but by golly it’s hard on the nerves. I hope it doesn’t contravene any rules of the RCVS to publicly thank Rose the vet and Bex the nurse for their prompt, expert and sympathetic treatment – both of the lad himself, and us.

Back on his feet

18 April 2011 § 7 Comments

Up and running

Hopping, he was:
Near hind hitched up as though the ground
Was suddenly too hot to bear;
A trembling velvet milking-stool,
Head and tail hanging low,
A look of ‘better-leave-me-sir-I’ll-only-slow-you-down’
In his martyred, liquid eyes.

Rest and four days’ lead-walking.
Easy for the vet to say:
Hell on feet for us; the lad
A little keg of gunpowder,
The wire-taut lead a fuse
As every squirrel, cat and rabbit
For miles around chose these four days
To wander idly across our path,
And grin at our tempestuous tangles
And yelps of hopeless rage.

But then to see him free again,
Eating up the football field
In strides five times his length
And hear the thrumming of four sound feet
Behind me, feel him blow by
Like a train not stopping at this station,
Makes my heart lighter
Even than my wallet
And restores the swing
In my own step.

First week away

29 March 2011 § 12 Comments

Counting down

At three
She’ll be home:

An hour remains
Of this week in my own skin
Before I assume the shape and antics
Of Daddy once again.

I should spend
These sixty stolen minutes
Savouring the peace
The lightness of heart and head
Freed from questions
Relieved of needs –
Live a little longer
At a grown-up pace.

But I’m waiting.

Quiet has become
Silence;
Space, emptiness;
Liberty, the lack of her.

And for all I wish her
To go free
Explore
And seize her world

Mine is flat
When she’s not in it
To give it roundness
And horizons.

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