Portrait

by Allison McVety

My father carried his mother through Yugoslavia
and Greece. Stitched into the lining of his coat
 
and against regulations, she kept him company
through the days he hid in back rooms and under stairs;
 
suckled him on nights huddled in churchyards,
with only the chatter of his pad and key. He folded her
 
into his wallet, where she was rubbed by the grub of pound
notes, discharge papers, a thank-you letter
 
from General Tito. Around her neck, in miniature,
her brother, on a row of cultured pearls: his face
 
crimped by the crease of leather. His eyes show no hint
of my mother, though he has her lips. He is his pre-gassed,
 
pre-shot self. And I am the daughter of cousins, a woman
with no children. I think of losing her in a crowd, slipping her
 
into someone’s jacket, an open bag, that sagging pocket
on the train, for her to live another life, our line travelling on.