Poems February 2020
I had been ninety years on Thera, and still felt like an incomer.
They were kind to me, though,
and like any other local in the town, when my time came, I met
with the curator of The Garden
so I could choose the shape of my long sleep. In The Garden, you
are fixed at that second of your life
you were happiest, and reside therein forever. I got the guided
tour. There was a lot of fishing. Family tableaus, holidays;
many nativities. One deathbed scene that had clearly given
someone especial delight.
Because their joy proves so fleeting, many chose ‘a moment of
success’—prizegivings, promotions, triumphs
in the Theran sports whose rules I never learned to follow. A few
scenes made me think he’d looked into my file,
but our lives are never as unique as we would have them. A man
giving a piano recital, his eyes closed,
bowed low before the keyboard as an altar; a young, naked
couple on a single bed, closed on each other like a scallop;
a hospital ward where a man stood open-mouthed, as the
newborn he’d thought a lost cause
began to draw his mother’s milk.
He let me try a few, but most carried a seed of agitation I knew
would get to me in time. He did a fine job
of spinning up an unseasonably warm morning in Ullapool, and
stopped me there a while:
as my migraine had lifted and I listened to the river and the birds
in the early spring sunlight,
I knew I still had time to start again. But now the bench was
hard, and the birdsong too loud.
When he thawed me out, I said: I know what I want. I remember
I’d been playing all afternoon
with my brother on the beach at Kinghorn—a small settlement of huts
by our Northern Sea—
and had run myself ragged. I was very hot, and lay down in the shadow
of a dune, in the cool damp sand.
I asked my brother to get his spade and turn the sand over me until
only my face was showing.
I felt my weariness drain into the ground, and the whole Earth bear me
up until I weighed nothing.
At first the curator looked at me like I was from another planet,
then remembering I was, said:
I admit, it’s a curious one. But if that’s what you desire, it will be my
honour to arrange it.
So he dug a shallow trench in the black soil by the flowerbeds,
just my length, and I lay down in it;
and he stopped everything again, and gently filled the bed until
the earth covered my legs, my body and my face
and placed a sign nearby that I should not be disturbed.
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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 38 Number 6, on page 28
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