She’s always been old, in life, in long death,
wearing her son’s old Barnstaple grammar school blazer
out there weeding his garden when he was away,
keeping his house clean for him to come back,
Wilfred Pickles on the radio, Morning Service, cats,
the Old Codgers column in the Daily Mirror.
Among the old letters and cards there’s no picture,
though there are of the others, her ‘bosom friend’,
all her sisters, brother Rees who did well, cousins
like Clem, who was a banker in The Gold Coast,
nothing of Father, though, the lay clergyman.
But there’s ‘Joe, the man I nearly married’ and about whom
she talked on and on to me when I was with her
on those school holidays they were still on tour,
Joe in the thick cardboard with the photographer’s name
on the back in green, the address in Hereford,
whom she didn’t marry, but his father instead,
and was no longer a ladies maid in that big house in Ludlow.
And when he died a few years later, and she was left
a single mother, owning a whole wool shop
setting her hips against the brass ruler along the counter
and saying I’ll do this for his sake, and so she did.
We had Christmases there with the wicker chair
by the fire, Home Teacher behind glass doors
in the book shelf, Children’s Encyclopaedia
got even a little rich, enough to send me to those schools
I hated, never recovered from, that survive
now in this compulsion to write, as I write her,
even perhaps out of the same absence, not felt at the time.
She came up and read to me after the were wolf film
when I couldn’t sleep, took me to church
all that long walk, she in her strongly planted sandals,
knelt with me by the bed to say our prayers,
making welsh cakes that Dad liked slightly burnt
and Mum turned her nose up at, and didn’t want her
but when she came, where else was there ? - till later,
at the home where Dad had to drive all the way
to Devon to visit her, when he could, his home,
the address of that shop which he’d always write out
when trying out one of my new fountain pens,
and on the tape recorder you could still hear the Devon,
‘debn’ as he’d say, and in her still the Brecon Welsh
going out into the garden so angry that the birds
had eaten all the blackcurrants off the bush
because the net wasn’t fine enough (the badminton net
Dad had scrounged from Four Wing Sports Store
he’d run with the great Bert Williams in the war)
and then next year, as she was getting ‘old’ old,
that firm jawed triumph when she defeated them
and came in with a whole bowl glittering and untouched.
I reached out and took one, hard as a bullet.