Una’s home-coming found no welcome waiting
wrapped safe in a sheet tight as a shroud.
Carried into a home still aching
into the shadows of curtains drawn.
Forever together in the one sentence.
From tender talk of features above a pram’s hood
to a hushed descent into guarded stories
about joany, and how she died.
How do you keep a float in such waters
when no one has got hold of you?
Too painful for nursery rhymes and photos
breast taken while a mind’s lost in a storm.
Only found in photos when a new sister
appears. Never the focus of a camera
even in her first communion dress,
emphasis on a little sister, in a pretend one.
Every Friday for six years
she drove between rush hours
from Manchester to Liverpool
the distance from worry to relief.
The whole day warming the chair
next to a bed-bound mother.
Constant stream of reminiscence
still alive in the wide open space of the moment.
‘Leaving?’ She’d say in the way only
mothers to daughters can:
‘I am going to buy you a cake
with hello and good bye on it’
Gathered around the hospital bed waiting
for the last breath to stop coming.
I felt that when it did she’d entered
into a place somewhere else.
In the emptiness between death and the funeral
a grand daughter dreamt she saw her sat up
in the hospital bed, a cup of tea in her hand
saying: ‘The pain’s gone. I’m glad its all over.’
The youngest daughter in all the photos
dreamt she was running, long hair flowing,
saying I have been looking for this feeling all my life
with a radiance that entered into her like the heat off an iron.
Una put on her mother’s big coat
stood over the mound of earth
held her mother’s bag in an elbow’s crook
in the way she use to; and still no dream.
Only a sudden stiff neck that she got
on the night her mother died.
So at the reception, moving like a cripple,
she’d listen to tales about her mother.
What she noticed most in the last weeks
was the gradual absence of phone calls.
For years she’d call at least three times a day
she sensed not phoning was a forewarning.
Ten days after insisting
scruffy grave diggers did a solemn job
joining mother and daughter together,
Una phoned with pauses enough for cancer.
Upset, she described her day as terrible.
Found a masseur in an advert
to ease the knot in her neck,
a constant poking, without rest.
After a cancellation because of the funeral
she waited with her friend in a new salon.
Jolted by the masseur’s older appearance
when she asked her to come through.
It was a stern voice that asked:
‘Any problems I should know about?’
‘My mam died 10 days ago
I don’t know if it is just tension or an injury’
An awkward silence stayed, as hands squeezed
and turned muscles. Una asked about her work
with dying patients. It felt like trying to dig over
hard earth. Felt she’d overstayed her welcome.
Her neck felt easier whatever was crooked
had been straightened. Whatever was trapped
had been set free. The stranger had reached
spaces that she couldn’t have found on her own.
The woman said: ‘I hope you don’t
mind me asking but who is Tom?
Not the most obvious question to ask.
Una replied ‘That was my father’s name.’
She said: ‘Tom’s spirit is here now
and he wants me to tell you,
he has found your mother again
and you don’t need to worry.’
Something burst inside
the woman sort of pleaded as if
trying to interpret a sentence: ‘Don’t cry.
He doesn’t want you to be upset.’
She hesitated as if not grasping an accent
‘Does the name Jo, or Joan, mean
anything to you?’ Una said: ‘Yes
it is the name of my little sister who died.’
She said: ‘Well, she is with them.
The three of them
are all together again
and you don’t need to worry.’
In the car Una interrogated her friend.
Might she had said something to the woman?
Mention it to friends, received a look, a cynical smile.
‘In the end, I don’t care. It is just the way it is.’