Small Variations


In the Hospice gardens, midday in the bright sun,
A woman of thirty or thirty-five, too weak,
Exhausted, or disinclined to walk the few yards back
To her room, raises her pale blue hospital gown
And in one slow motion squats along the pathway to pee.
And standing there beside her, her hopelessly
Embarrassed father, unable to look, unable not to look. 


The lamp turned off, the curtains white in folds.
First an ear, an eyebrow, the curve of her shoulder,
The small scallop of her collarbone, and gradually
His dead wife appears to him, just as she’d done
Thirty years before when he’d take the night train
Home from the Clinic, thinking his way through
The sequence of kisses he’d give her on his return. 


For days on end she sits beside her sleeping son,
Her fingers busy stitching and unstitching a large
Needle-point picture of a lane down which red-
Jacketed men on horseback ride. She’s just finished
A bordering stand of trees by interleaving its canopy
With tiny bits of yellow thread. An effect so pleasing
She’s alarmed to think she’d imagined this world apart from him.