by Craig Barker
(Winner, Carson McCullers Literary Awards, first place, Poetry)
It fell on a Tuesday, and I wore my father’s old white shirt,
washed it the night before to get rid of the dirt,
with the trousers I’d worn in a school prom throng.
His shirt was too big, and my trousers were short instead of long.
My hair was a mess, the cuts on my knuckles were still there,
healing reactions, my fist versus the wall after I’d heard.
The charcoal tie was too tight, clumsily looped around,
the lump in my throat was pressed against it as I sat down.
I remember the draft creeping like fog between the pews,
rippling over my polished shoes; the only thing new.
For a fleeting moment it was like you were there,
letting off an exasperated sigh coupled by a bemused stare.
You were younger, happier, nodding with a warm grin
at the patch of winter-white flesh illuminated above my shin.
I stopped listening to the sermon the vicar vomited then,
thought about sunny Summer days instead of stitched hems.
Thought about cracked china, peppered eggs and a toast soldier
thought about you in my second home, refusing to get any older.
I was proud of you then, happy on a day I didn’t think I could be,
and I knew that was all you would’ve wanted from me.
The faded taxi earlier, had been late by just over a minute.
I hadn’t minded (I’d been reading a book), but my mother was livid;
she’d yelled at the driver, although we’d made it on time,
worried we’d offend relatives – we were still the earliest to arrive.
Your friend from your book group called me cute while we all waited,
I thought with a smile that I’d reminded her of a guy she’d dated,
perhaps a redheaded boy she’d known way back in her carefree youth,
My heart broke at the wake later, when I learnt the truth.
Sad, that for the time we talked she saw someone else in me,
I was the husband she’d met after the war; her mind lost back in 1953.
That scared me, not necessarily the idea of death, but what it meant,
the idea of losing everything for nothing, the time we’d spent.
Forgetting journeys on buses into town as a tottering child.
Forgetting your grey, wired hair, rich perfume, the slanted smile.
Forgetting our last day, and forgetting the way I shivered,
when the church doors opened on the graveyard by the river.
Forgetting the sudden rush that spread through my bones
when I realised, in fresh Autumn air, that life had never meant more,
and that it hadn’t come too late, even though you were over.
I didn’t even care that the shirt was still baggy on my shoulders.