Inheritance

Guarding like a totem, as my remnant,
His highlander-bottle keeps watch:
The paternal inheritance:
The whiskey-hollow harmonic echoes

From the neck of a dry riverbed.
But the bottle-man stands tall, peripherally, on the shelf;
A blind gaze, as solemn as one last breath.
He attracts dust while his old notes nestle

In the ears of the dead, captured
Only in the memory of ashes,
So that together they remember, pulseless:
The booming, stubbled laughter, the gulping thirst.

He watches it lurk in the veins.
The path wood-carved in the family tree
To be repeated like a shared prophecy –
My birthmark from the first schism.

Only rose-falls close the lifelong call.
Too soon we dull with Sunday bells tolling
To decay with our unshakeable faults,
Bearing them like gifts for an afterlife.

The Ballet

The light collapsed with the weight of dusk
As we went to watch the ballet.
We only ever went that one time.
A special performance. In fact
I had never seen ballet before
Or since – it wasn’t me. But you,
You had. You loved it, lived it,
Regularly. It was a childhood dream.
However you had missed the chance;
Apparently “You have to start when you’re young”.
The opportunity had departed
Like a missed train. No second chances.

But I remember that night because
It was the first time I found a bad evening.
We had left the bedroom overturned,
Littered with arguments over nothing,
But your barbs were like arrows
Craving the sight of a Sebastian.

Suddenly you didn’t seem like you –
Or at least, not one that I knew.
It wasn’t. The first of many.
A temporary distance.
Your face clamped shut to barricade you in:
Your voice hidden as a pearl.
You described it as your mind becoming
Untrustworthy.

We arrived and entered the theatre
Quietly. It echoed like a church
Without the crosses. Hushed voices.
It was already not going well;
We were always late and lost.
We searched for our places in the dark,
Repeating our seat numbers
Like the combination to a safe,
Relaying up and down the aisle
As though hunting for lost keys,
Until the right row finally appeared –
We had somehow lost a letter from the alphabet.

We sat down.

The ballet teetered on the precipice.
The curtains quivered like lips
Of the Red Sea. We awaited a Moses.
I tried to pry open the silence
But every time I spoke, I saw you
Shrug away my words
Like they were only air.
The lights dimmed further.
The music opened floodgates.

Dancers poured out from the wings,
Spilling onto the stage in a torrent
Of song-spun pirouettes, soaring jumps,
Blurring into more than humans.
Their black feathered costumes combining
And undulating like returning birds.

The room rumbled with awe.
The air swelled with approval.
The audience reinforced grace.
And I didn’t understand a thing –
Nothing more than childlike-mesmerised;
Open mouthed, as though held
By a magician’s watch.
Occasionally I tried to whisper
Something meaningful, non-elevator.
Mostly I blinked forwards.

You understood like it was home.
Awakening gradually,
Eyes like sparked coals,
The dancers pulled you out from your depths
And lifted you up like one of them
To the surface on the tide of red velvet.
Your face beamed; sunflower joy;
Turning to find the sun
Just as you couldn’t imagine
That it would ever reappear.

Eventually the curtains closed
And I found your smile, resuscitated
Inside of some clothes
That you don’t usually wear.

Scars

We showed our scars for the first time
And shared the wounds like love letters,
Revealing some of the ways we were marked forever.
Our damaged bodies pulled through the years
Like scuffed toboggans, baring fading remnants
Of ageing hurt, the colour of fine red wine.

I went first. A cut through my cheek
That slits my face faintly with a sickle curve
Reaching in and around, playing hide and seek
In the allure of a sanctuary thorn bush.
My cheek flapping open like a new mouth.

You went next. A sunken bite mark arm:
The memory of mousetrap-dog jaw –
A small dog, you reassure me, no pit bull –
Just a colour-blind limb like a juicy bone.
A family pet, the size of your powerlessness.
The wound went deeper than mine

So I returned serve, my hand tentatively
Sliding further down my body
To pull up the bottom of my shirt
And expose a keyhole belly slit
And a young boy, curled under his bed
Like a foetal, dead caterpillar.
Wailing and dog-whimpering
With tremors and appendix aftershocks;
A body like a burst, useless organ.
But you reached out, touched it.
Read the raised, twitching belly scar like Braille.

You pushed your fingers into my hand
And guided me into your mouth.
You pulled your bottom lip down like a drawbridge.
I pressed my fingertips into the pink
Hiding behind your lip. It was bumpy.
Like grit clumps, rock lumps. A van velocity
Embedded with tarmac impact;
Your body skating over the concrete
Like a pebble skipping across water.

Your tongue didn’t flicker any words. I saw
Hospital beds, IV drips. You held my wrist
And aimed next for knee cartilage –
Gently, gently, careful. The glistening
Skin like a surgically cut crossword
Of incisions and hard answers.
A bystander telephone call mapped out.
Your mother’s phone hitting the floor
As cobweb echolocation,
Searching for her baby. You said nothing
And I had no worse scars.

You said more nothing and hid more hurt
In other places that I could never see.