The names that scroll across the screen
diminish as they slip from view.
Entered years and passed from list to list,
they mostly live in distances, and stay

undialled. Amongst them are the dead
whose numbers, undeleted, can never
be recalled. What lies below the label
of their names is everything they were

and everything that could have been
if they had stayed. Unthinkable
to take them out, as if they’d never been.
In the end you may be next, or centre of

a lonely game, with you the last to stand.
Then they will be everything you are.
You can impose dementia, delete these keys
that lock/unlock the human in your brain –

but keep the faith with what they were,
and are, in every single, less than perfect, day.
What else when those ahead grow short
and cold as winter, in moonlight falling

behind trees? Why wish them gone,
and lose your time in theirs? Though no next
with them – our only paradisal hope remains
enfolded in the memory of their arms.

Those Cats

The cats lie, eyes-closed, on the sofa where he died.
The rise and fall of fur. Three sets of ears pitched
cautiously in my direction. Where I sit, he sat, worn out,
eyes fixed on three bright bars of straight, unmoving heat.

They’ve taken him. Still here, the life he left from,
the things he never seemed to see – the empty
hearth, its burned-through grate remaining
unreplaced; the cotton dishcloths drying.

Above, on the enamelled mantel, his little joke –
the china collie dog my mother bought him,
head down, facing out the clipped-out snap
of sheep, wrapped round an old and empty tin;

some matches and a scrap of card with pencilled stock on.
All this beneath the noiseless clock, the simple
calendar from Scot’s Gap, the royal samplers Jane,
his elder sister, made and which she hardly dared

put on the wall for fear of what he’d say.
Now, both are gone. The tongue that troubled her
fills the farmhouse kitchen with its silence.
Monday Mart day. Nothing left to sell.

The cats take their untroubled ease, as if sleep
was their sole pleasure. From his he’d wake and stare
the fire out, stroking them with fingers strong as roots
and thickened with the honour of his work.

The electric bars give out their heat, heat he
sat in front of as he died, boots on, and cap,
waiting for what we’ll never know – a rest?
more warmth? a stockman’s knock upon the door?

Alone he died, alone my mother found him,
eyes closed and sitting up; called him,
felt his cooling brow, and knew its time.
The doctor laid him flat beneath a blanket,

lifted him like a child, a body age had lightened,
and, as they talked, his cats claimed last possession,
lying in their accustomed comfort on his feet.
Look at those cats, she’d said, and shook her head.

Ogle Hill Head


for David

We do not know the damage in the heart –
Time leaves its own constrictions, beats
Against us as we walk or struggle up each daily
Minor hill. No feeling – that’s the thing we
Wish for. Breath to stop, to pause, to shout,
to run away. No knowing pain to punctuate
or cause discomfort. And no surgical glances
from hospital juniors who have learned but
do not know the secrets of the heart.
Fat chance. In there are muscles which on
Impulse send us on our way. Theirs is
The power and the end of the story.

Chester 2005