Like a pet that comes in wet and muddy,
fur matted with adventure, you return,
bright-eyed and wild, from your nocturnal jaunt.
Load the pictures in,’ you say,
handing me your camera, cold as frost.
You’ve been haunting Invergordon’s shore,
photographing the rigs at Nigg.
I slot the memory card into the USB.
(Your work’s all digital now, and done at home.
At hefty cost, you print your own giclées.
You can’t be arsed with darkrooms or with labs.
Your trusty Topcon’s in the cupboard somewhere;
You’ve thrown your dusty chemicals away.)
‘Call me when they’re in,’ you say, and scoot
to the kitchen, footmarks trailing from your boots.
The images are blurry. They were bound to be –
hand-held, no tripod, in the wuthering night.
That’s how you want it. Twenty years ago,
you travelled with a swag of gear
and strove to get the exposures right.
Now you’re chasing arcs of feral light,
smears and shadows, eerie and mysterious.
You’re ready to evolve. You’re getting serious.
Onscreen, umpteen skies and oil rigs manifest
before us as you sip your drink. You note
the ones that might be worth the paper and the ink.
Then you begin to print. Most likely until dawn.
In your world, Art is never virtual.
It’s physical, a thing; it can be held,
you are compelled to make it real.
By morning, there’ll be rejects cluttering the floor
and you will ask me which, of several contenders,
is ideal. We’ll be agreed. This is ‘the one’.
The one which, when you’re gone,
will bear the seal of your approval.
If someone, passing by, observed us chatting,
they’d think we’re making no big deal of this.
A few prints shifted to one side, an omelette, a kiss.
RIGHT THERE ON THE FLOOR
In our twenty-six years together,
we did some mighty intimate stuff.
But I don’t believe we ever
pushed it further than the time
you sat stripped to the waist
on a chair in our bedroom,
me standing behind you
with scissors in my hand,
you looking straight ahead
at the Edinburgh rooftops
saying ‘Do it. Just do it.’
And those locks of limp dark hair
that still remained, plastered
to your pale and chemo-blasted skull –
I took them in my fingers, lifted them,
GIFTS FROM EXOTIC PLACES
You have a new pal called Rakesh.
You send him photos of Scotland.
He sends you photos of a village
somewhere outside Delhi.
Scotland is beautiful, he opines.
So different, the sunsets.
You show him your paintings, spare him
the challenging ones; he’s a regular guy,
prefers landscapes to memento moris.
You chat expensively by phone, swap worries
about children. (When you die,
he’ll send condolences, call you
‘a kind soul’, seem genuinely upset.
‘It is true,’ he’ll concede, ‘we were having
business relationship and we never met,
but she becomes my good friend.’)
Such care Rakesh takes, when filling
your orders. He cuts polystyrene cubes
to fit the empty spaces in between
your packs of Thalimax.
He counts each ersatz Valium,
making sure you get your rupees’-worth.
He smooths potential snags with Customs.
He wraps the packages in muslin.
Seals them with a glob of wax.
You now have enough Thalidomide
to maim three hundred babies.
And Rakesh has photographs
You tried to phone but
Dignitas was busy.
You begged me, so I wrote instead.
My typing fingers made vibrations
on your bed.
But Switzerland gave no reply.
DON’T HESITATE TO ASK
So many of the people I’ve
informed that she is dead
‘If there’s anything
we can do, anything at all,
don’t hesitate to ask.’
since you offer,
Would you mind driving me
headlong through the universe
at ten million miles and hour,
scattering starts like trashcans
scorching the sky?
Put your foot to the floor,
crash right through the gate of Fate,
trespass galaxies, straight over
black holes and supernovas
to the hideout of God.
Wait for me while I break
down the boardroom door
and drag the high and mighty fucker
out of his conference with Eternity,
his summit on the Mysteries of Life,
and get him to explain to me
why it was so necessary
to torture and humiliate
and finally exterminate
These things I do not say
because I know
that by ‘anything at all’
a cup of tea
or a lift into town,
if you’re going
You worked covertly,
nurturing by stealth.
You lifted people up,
nudged them to transcend
in sickness and in health.
Those you assisted looked around
to thank you, but you’d hide.
When your influence began to spread
too far, you died. I still hear
your whisper in my ear:
‘Let’s be going.’
If I could scan this planet
with X-rays that detect the presence
of your timely interventions,
I’m sure I’d find them
in places you would not expect.
You’re dead. I know. And it is not for me
to show you death is not the end.
But you left lucencies of grace
secreted in the world,