The Deciphering

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Posted by Vale

The Deciphering

How busy we are with the dead in their infancy,
who are still damp with the sweat of their passing,
whose hair falls back to reveal a scar.

We think of wiping their skin, attending them
in the old way, but are timid, ignorant.
We walk from the high table where they are laid

leaving their flesh royally mounded
just as they have left it
for the undertakers to cherish.

We consider the last kiss,
the taste and grain of it.
The lift door squeezes open, then shut.

All days we think we have lost our car keys.
There is a feeling in the back of the mind
as we eat a meal out on the balcony

but the door refuses to open
and although my sisters have prepared food elaborately
you do not advance to us, smiling.

The children have put sauce on the side of their plates
thinking you will come and swipe a chip,
thinking this meal is one you cooked

as always, humming to yourself in the kitchen,
breaking off to tap the barometer
and watch starlings roost on the pier.

How long it takes to stop being busy with that day,
each second of it like the shard
of a pot which someone laboured to dig up

and piece together without knowledge
of language or context.
Slow, slow the deciphering.

This marvelous poem is taken from Helen Dunmore’s new collection The Malarkey.


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