The sofa in our sitting-room, long the worse
for wear, is newly back from an upholsterer
by royal appointment who announces
that to preserve the caché of age, ‘old money’
insists on less padding; whereas rather
than boast a pedigree of bottoms, ours
curves in the centre like dough rising.
A couple of days later we read how
the couch in Freud’s consulting room
so sags under the weight of over a century
of recollected terrors, phobias and dreams
an appeal has been launched for its repair:
surely of greater interest to retain the imprint
of the Wolf Man and those hundreds of others?
Since dawn my binoculars have been trained
on a vixen burrowing frenziedly in a cage
at the foot of next door’s garden. When
the pest control man appears, he cloaks
himself in a brown blanket, to mask the kill.
Now the cubs, too, have gone: vermin
after all, the passageway still stinking.
Yet I retain a sense of connivance, unable
to dispel the memory of that hooded form,
cross between a ghoul and a crazed Capuchin.
A HAIR IN THE GATE
Whenever they shot the perfect scene
he would hear the cry, “There’s a hair
in the gate, stand by to take it again”,
and like as not he’d end up distraught, the light
fading, the cast’s concentration gone. Then
his thoughts would turn to the wintry day
when crouched behind a dry-stane dyke
clutching his first box Brownie, he’d seen
that snowy-white creature, ears pricked,
and in the split second before it lolloped off,
clicked and caught it, a perfect hare in the gate.
In broad daylight a black girl in a white
dress crosses the street to caress one
of the tubbed hydrangeas burgeoning
on our front steps. On tenterhooks
behind net curtains, until she gracefully
recedes I fear she may snip a flower-head,
strip the plant bare even, provide each
in her troupe with a sumptuous corsage.
Such exoticism scarcely outdoes the claim
of one neighbour, then in her nineties,
that a Ghanaian woman on moving in
transformed our front room into a haven
for damaged birds, central a lime in leaf,
where crows’ broken wings could mend
before their release on the lawn, pairs
of mallard squittering on the floorboards,
Such malodorous squalor long since gone,
all we’d faced on a preliminary reccy
were lobster-creels stacked in the porch,
the seller about to embark on a career
as a fisherman up north, but facetiously
seen as a severe case of rising damp;
and in our term, no more than vagrant foxes
and squirrels, a sparrow-hawk on the clothes-line.
No way of guessing what may be ingrained
of ourselves and our perceived eccentricities,
from a vulgar Victorian longcase to the stone
lion with blue glass eyes sited in the garden;
or whether, some ultimate owner vacating
the premises, the hydrangeas still all the rage,
a wan household god, no-one left to preside
over, will pluck a bloom to adorn his cortege.
Of the operation
he remembers nothing,
or what preceded it,
only on coming round
swathed in bandages
to dream he is one
of Cadwallon’s knights
ordered to bind
their legs together
under their horses’
bellies so that they’d
remain mounted even
when mortally wounded.
The hitherto pent-up song-thrush
in our shrubbery relays the news
that mother and son are both well.
May you, assured of loving nurturing,
grasp in these tiny yet perfect
hands whatever the future may bring
and the world, no matter in what crazed
manner it may spin, do you no harm
but provide solace and protection.
Meantime in the family Bible the section
recording the passage of the generations
awaits your name’s neat inscription.
Others are praised for their lavish plumage and fancy
call-notes, but this bullfinch settling in next door’s
garden will do fine for me, his trademark black cap,
white rump and whirring-in-air a miracle of nature –
while the visit of another, more complex and wondrous,
is announced by a ring at our front door. Who knows
but some day, the one may marvel at the other?
Meanwhile let us love him for what he is, regardless
of whether in due course he is noted for his song
and fearless acrobatics or like the homely sparrow,
keeping our peckers up, companionably chirpy.
Among fragments of debris dispersed
on the muddy verge of the walk-way –
vandalised or stolen from a nearby garden,
no way of knowing – lay the head and torso
of a yellow stone lion with blue glass eyes.
A shame to let it lie, I returned next day
with an old rucksack and after a wobbly
cycle-run, found it a shady spot under
our cherry tree, an al fresco addition
to our accumulated lares et penates;
guardian of the precinct, enabling me
at any hour to look down at those eyes,
imperialist, like fixed stars. No sharper
contrast than with yours at four weeks,
fathomless pools as yet impenetrable
while the world waits for you to find
focus, and subject ourselves to scrutiny.
So great the expectation, as you mature.
On you meantime, whatever that future,
be all the blessings the gods can muster.