This poem was published in The Poetry Review, spring issue, 2018. Ruth Padel reads with Leah Umansky at The Poetry Café on Monday 23rd July 2018.


by Ruth Padel

    When your mother dies
there’s no one left to hold the sky.
    When I was small
    we lived on the top floor
in Wimpole Street       an attic window
looking out on a forest canopy of silver tiles
   where an owl
roosted in a revolving flue
after a long night’s hunting in Hyde Park.
   When the wind blew
my mother held me up
to see the vent swing its cowl
   like a periscope
and two dark eyes appeared
looking back at us
from a nimbus of pale feathers.
   Face of a secret moon.

In the last week
when we were all
                                 cancelling meetings
                                 making long-distance phone calls wherever we could
                                                                                                find a signal
                                 gathering over scratch meals
                                 running out of milk

that moment when true feelings light up suddenly
out of the square-cut stone of the everyday
and urgency swings in like a wrecking ball

one of my brothers said
that her twenty-first birthday     fell
during the London blitz.

Rainy September.
    Her brothers all away
                            working in hospitals
                                                             labs in America

she was alone    with her disabled
older sister and their parents.
None of them remembered                  until supper
                                                            when her mother
                                                            went upstairs
and came back with a ring.

I don’t like to think of this.
No one excited for her
    as her brothers might have been
only something quick-found    that would do

in the blackout    autumn rain
                     twenty miles from fires
          shaking      thunder on the night horizon.

That ring
         a piece of stuck-together love and hurt
splintered    by the invading shale or schist
                                                           of loneliness

I never heard of it till now
never saw it on her finger. Will we find it in
the small bashed-up brown case

of jewellery she never wore
we lugged to those valuers
for probate

or was it got rid of       lost
    given away
through the years that came after?

How do you prove
    and what can you value
under the mountain range

of the unconscious?
    We never ask
the bedrock question till too late.

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