The last time I saw you, corroded
man of metal, manoeuvring your mortal
shell over tarmac, cyber sun sparked body
-work so blinding you didn’t see me
at the window sipping Irn Bru. Your brittle head
shadowed by your Panama, dipped dead-pan,
you looked like an Italian film
director shooting the scandalous
biopic of an unknown Nazi. My father,
forged by Stalin’s Holodomor,
man of steel with the ability
to change shape, become uniform,
less liable to crack
the annealing boy with a sword.
Such handsome cheek-bones.
They burned villages on the Western
Steppes belching black smoke
on the day paramilitary death squads
took photographs. I dreamed of you
behind the wheel of a red
Volkswagen Beetle your shame
-ful love of German engineering,
your welded lips breaking down,
reforming internal shapes under
pressure like Swarfiga green
jelly in a tub. You held out one
giant hand scarred by hundreds
of burns, carved deep,
never given a chance to heal
working fourteen hour shifts
at the foundry. Get on board, you said.
Words stuck in your throat
when they took your rotten teeth
out. You coughed blood and lies
into a white handkerchief,
pretended to hang yourself with a jump.
Freedom is a gift not for Everyman.
You were someone else in 1947,
metal pushed through a die.
I’ve won this battle but I can’t win the war.
Like a vampire back from the dead,
I regenerate in fancy dress disguise.
This moustache doesn’t suit me at all
and spaghetti legs flip/flopping
every which way – most unnerving.
My spine is trying to reach the floor,
running low on back bone and needing a nap.
My arms whirl in decreasing circles,
muscles have given up the ghost. Where is the sultry woman in the gold silk robe?
My heart still beats in dedicated syncopation,
an expectation of holy communion, the red
wine that I must sip not spill. My heart
forgives any casual blasphemy,
rebellion of malformation.
And I, the unbeliever, swear to uphold the creed.
On my left shoulder, smooth as ocean
a lonesome fish swims against the tide
and dreams of new beginnings. Where is the chamomile child spinning down the hill?
She forgets the scars and stripes, puckering
my wrist, tribal markings. A rite of passage
or a reclamation of self? Mutinous but lightening.
My translucent skin, wafer thin, is a manuscript
revealing the indigo text of an alien race. Where is the pearly newborn hidden in her crib?
So near and yet so far. I must cut deep
to draw blood. Beneath the thumb is the scared
and sacred spot where the pulse beats.
The boy in the next bed was dying
of a disease with a fine French name.
No fruit, no flowers, no cards
wishing at his side. He had freckles,
curly hair the colour of coal tar soap
and Dr Barnardo’s for a home.
We strayed, whenever nurses looked away,
used Fagin skills to pry Fry’s Chocolate Cream
from the vending machine in Admissions.
The boy leaning on the push
handles of my wheelchair, dragging
numbed feet, sometimes losing a slipper.
At night the pain came stealing.
The boy, a brittle whisper
crept into my bed and I held him
close, close as skin,
nose to nose, forbidden
mint breath clinging.
We drive south into a ferrous wind.
The sky unclenches. Fingers of rust
stain the peaks of Morven and Scaraben,
old blood on a crumpled sheet.
The land trembles with yesterday’s news.
Barbed and shredded. Bales of hay sheathed
in pink stack the sweetness of last summer.
Sheep dot and dash the fields like broken
teeth spat into a steel bowl. Crofts cower,
trees twist into submission. Amputation
-dislocation. Strike a pose. Resistance
is futile. Across the border smoke rises,
thin entrails signalling your departure.
Alone in my hospital room at night I watch tiny particles of dust and fluff swirl beneath the reading lamp. They say dust comprises of dead skin cells, we sweep them away when we clean, removing all trace of our former selves. Our cells are constantly reproducing and every seven years our bodies regenerate anew. Your body is repeatedly recycling itself but not your mind. Your mind is an entirely different story. Our brains become less active, neural pathways die, our memories fade and disappear, we lose skills and alertness, sometimes we even lose our sense of self.
But back in my mean small room, Ward 3A. I’ve been here fourteen weeks now. A reluctant patient, more like prisoner. So every night I sit, sleepless and thoughtless watching the dust and wondering if these are particles of the old me, a shedding of my past life. Occasionally moths enter through the open window and dance wildly in the pool of light, their fragile wings clinking against the electric bulb. Blinded and bewildered they circle. In the morning I find their wispy bodies spent and shrivelled on my sheets.