Chocolate for an Old Man
A slab of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk
glued to the roof of his mouth, his tongue
nudged it into sweet lava flow, slowly
lapped the tablet to the size of a pea.
An afternoon’s work. But no rush for one
who would now eat nothing but chocolate.
Cannot the dying dine as they please?
Acolytes bore chocolate tributes to his bed:
Soft-brown coins and creamy ingots;
mint-crisped, honey-combed, cocoa-bean created
oranges, cherries, leaves, bunnies, kittens. Hearts.
Crackling plastic trays stacked chocolates
that rolled like marbles in the hand,
warmed to matt, smudging bleached sheets.
In his dreams, Toblerone mountains coat-hangered the sky;
chocolate plantations stretched to the edge of the earth.
He grazed, gorged, no ration save time’s wrapper
round a body light as Aero, heavy with pain.
They gave him two days in August.
He died in December, legs Matchmaker thin,
taste of heaven already on his lips.
Three stamps – strawberry, green, chocolate,
behind matching Italian nobles’ heads
tilted under hats tall as dustbins.
I shuffled them on a tray, snooty faces up,
crowned them with a plastic cup,
swirled them dizzy, yelled ‘Abracadabra! ‘
like the magician on the telly,
swept up my cup with a flourish.
The pink stamp really vanished once.
A grey-voiced newsman at a desk
read stories about gorilla warfare
and all the sweet, sticky people
held in custardy.
Then the Ajax Tornado zoomed
round a black-and-white room
and everything sparkled clean.
I begged Mum to buy one,
but she just smiled, watched
all summer at the kitchen window
as I played by the old tree-stump.
I jumped off it again and again,
flapping my arms, desperate to fly.
Mother at the Edge of Care
A war-time child, you heard ‘Walls have ears!’
but now it seems they have eyes that leer,
and arms that lunge to stab at your legs.
I brought you north to this walled city
to cocoon your old age, encircle frailty
in safety. Your mind had other ideas.
Weather-damaged by widowhood,
your walls grow porous; others’ heads
turn loamy and seem to sprout saplings.
Those you’ve loved appear in the guise
of nurses, Carers, contestants in TV quizzes.
You no longer know who is friend or foe.
Above the near motionless mutter of your lips,
faded blue eyes stare, their yellow iris lines
exclamation marks of surprise.
Exile, I strain to catch old names, fragments
from the carnival within, as clocks run amok
and the silenced enemy waits the hour.
Julia McGuinness lives in Cheshire where she is a counsellor and writer – and then combines the two in running creative writing workshops for well-being! Her first poetry collection ‘Chester City Walls’ is to be published by Poetry Space. She can be found at www.creativeconnectionscheshire.co.uk