I wrote this after my beloved grandfather passed away last year. He had a high-grade glioma (brain tumour) and died peacefully at home after being nursed by my mum for several weeks. After writing about him a little yesterday, I wanted to share.
I cleaned out my grandparents’ garage today,
to make room
for my mother’s things–
two double beds, bluish-black sofas,
antique dresser units,
all of the cumbersome kitchen essentials.
I tried to be ruthless, without throwing away anything of importance.
But is an old red petrol can not important,
given the circumstances?
Seven months ago he left,
never seeing the temperate last few days
His navy-handled shears still hang on the wall,
beside the old club cricket bat
and the Christmas wreath that my mother
crafted from his coffin flowers.
The garage was cold and blowing dust
this afternoon, on account of
the last gasps of the Atlantic storm.
Life and death cannot, by wishing,
nor by the desperate wrenching
of the galaxies, be separated.
They are strangers inhabiting the same house.
The once-gleaming fountain in the middle of the yellowed lawn
is grey and stained. The garden is not large,
but she doesn’t walk that far anymore. The shallow steps are too much to manage.
In the rusted rainwater of his fountain there are brown leaves, curled
like arthritic fingers or tiny, sunken pirate ships
in a long-abandoned game. Above the leaves,
a child’s beaker, filthy and floating without a lid.
The summer birds used to come in flurries
to drink from this ornate bowl.
They would land on the angel’s head, look around twitchily,
then flutter off towards the sea.
In the garage there were scooters, booster seats and bags of compost, half-emptied.
Garden shoes, trowels and hoovers, weed killer, cans of beer.
And then, further along the shelf,
in a brown woven basket used for fruit or spare keys,
a carrier full of equipment
from those last few weeks.
Syringes, washcloths, soap for sensitive skin, tablets, baby wipes.
I hid them in a wooden crate, high up on a shelf,
away from the damp.
The night we helped him,
I was hauled out of a dream so deep
that I spent a few minutes thinking I might faint.
The blinds were open,
the moon was in his lap,
the smell overwhelming,
and I ran to the bedroom like a child in the dark.
In that crumpled plastic bag was all the care she gave,
the entirety and structure of each day.
I thought of his skin at the end, sallow
and stretched like a rubber mask across his skull,
hinged behind the ears.
His mouth had fallen open and would not close.
And I thought of how I would hurry to the freezer in the garage, not long before that,
to get a small pot of ice cream
to soothe his throat and moisten
his cracked lips.
He would smile at me then,
just a sideways glance,
and close his eyes again, slowly,
as though he had tasted the stars.