Exhausted from grieving
and the deadly bureaucracy
of burial and inheritance.
I sit sifting
the stacked residue
of my parents’ lives.
Shuffling aside decades of paper
I lift a grey-cream cardboard flap
and life leaps out in a blaze of colour.
A wooden bird, colours vivid under
a feathering of dust,
grinning up at me with a cheerful eye.
A coiled ammonite, fossil treasure
Of some long-ago walk.
A xylophone with the mallets missing.
A toy cannon,
a handful of lead soldiers.
A watercolour sketch of a newt,
in my mother’s delicate brushwork.
An old comb tangled with pale strands
(my father always said he was blond as a child)
And the head of a hobby horse,
eager to ride again even though its stick
seems to have vanished
And for a moment I seem to walk
across the green fields of earlier times.
Which are thronged with the fantastic creatures
Of my parents’ childhood worlds.
Above me the bird flirts with the air,
the newt slides green lightning down the mud,
the horses gallop endlessly
and the ammonites wander the endless oceans
among time’s ancient bones.
And the white sails
of ships freighted with
the spices and rubies of imagination
billow with a wind
which is always fair.
Jeans grey, eyes red,
I kneel in the dust,
alone but no longer lonely.
Consoled by these relics
of bright old dreams.
This poem is a response to another fascinating picture by Rick Mobbs. He said that he hoped there was a story in it, and this was the one that I found! It seemed to me like the wild world of a child’s imagination, but I couldn’t quite work out a way to convey that directly. Hence the idea of stumbling across an old toybox.
I am happy to be able to add that my parents are both alive and kicking, but in writing this I have drawn on my own childhood dreams as well as my experience of clearing a house after someone has died.