Superman in the sun.
The sky a vast stretch
of sapphire summer.
We dig for white gold
in the shallow waves,
feed chocolate biscuits
to the seagulls. You help
dig a tunnel to the sea.
The afternoon is made of
sandcastles and smiles.
A perfect picture postcard
of a holiday, a little boy
playing in paradise.
We drive back
through broken clouds.
The waiting room hits me
with the last time I sat
on this plastic chair.
A bad feeling,
a very, very bad feeling,
a crab crawling in my gut.
She shows me photographs
of what’s no longer there.
It’s been a year since nothing
spun the room around.
I am summer speckled,
sand in my toes, scarred
like a star fish, but I still
have the sun on my face.
There are leaves of porcelain
strewn in a corner
of an uncommon garden.
A moth of silk and velvet,
a collection of star fish.
You draw giant flowers
and are delighted to find
a hole in the floor.
It is an evening of soft sunlight,
gin and tonics, linen that
must not be stepped on.
I could be struggling
out of a hospital bed
but for the crushed bone dice
of bureaucracy, so I may as well
enjoy the paintings blossoming
on the walls. The petals
collected to decorate sandcastles.
You clapping your heart out
for the Halloween band.
This gift of sunflower seeds.
I spin you round in my arms
as we make the teddy bears
dizzy to Basement Jaxx.
You want to go faster and faster
till we collapse in giggles on the bed.
It’s strange to think next week
I won’t be able to do this.
Like imagining winter in summer,
hospital is a season I have forgotten.
You ask me, ‘What does bad guy cancer do?’
So many questions I have no idea
how to answer. You’re three years old,
the most important thing is that one day soon
we will dance together again.
Fireworks in the garden
burst into shooting stars
in awe at the red blue green rockets
of just turned three year olds
who dance for musical chairs
and the many layers of pass the parcel.
They hug and tumble and fight
over Paw Patrol cars as we look on
in the secret gasp of wonder
that they have made it this far,
that they are walking, talking little people.
As the sky explodes with their laughter,
I think please let me be here for this.
Whatever they need to cut
from the Catherine Wheel of my body,
whatever needs to be stripped
from the Guy Fawkes betrayal
of my inheritance, it does not matter
as long as I can still hold a little boy’s hand
and hear the intake of his breath
as it sparkles with life.
Paint me October yellow with its hush of leaves
clinging to branches, its startling reds
that burn with the promise of winter.
Those last days when the trees haunt
an Atlantic sky. Weary guests at
a fancy dress ball, swaying with the wine
and the lateness of the hour.
Let me wear glass slippers
and hide inside the pumpkin mask.
The three faces carved in the window
with their lurid grins and flickering candles.
Scoop out my insides. Make me hollow
as a skeleton. Draw my bones in chalk.
And if you must show my scars,
let them be written on water
as it flows under the weeping willow,
a ghost of a signature.
I am not fond of mirrors,
photographs, harsh reflections.
I’d rather be that trick of the light
in the far corner of a room
that was possibly an accident
or once painted white.
Show me not as a still life
but pouring seed through my fingers.
A scarecrow of a girl,
something of a vampire,
someone who has eaten fireworks,
perhaps the tiniest hint of a smile.
Already wise to my weakness for exaggeration,
you tell me it’s not a pterodactyl
flying past the window.
Though there is something prehistoric
about the sheer breath of its wing span,
the way it hangs suspended over
the red bruise of the tree
before swooshing away.
A timeless flying machine
against the deep blue of an October sky.
We discuss the pros and cons of wings,
how high you’d really like to go,
whether we should get ourselves
a TARDIS for Christmas.
As I tell you tales of dragons
and serpents and Sinbad clinging to the Roc,
I think there is a deep truth to these miracles.
The shepherd’s daughter who survives
till morning by shedding so much skin,
who holds the slimy, naked snake
in her arms and is not afraid.
For aren’t we all beautiful monsters,
struggling with cancerous demons,
dreaming our Icarus dreams?
The trick is to make extinction
the longest possible fall.
I have not felt lighter
so am doubtful when she says
it will give you a greater sense
of balance before slipping
the silicon into a white bra
and helping me with the straps
with that professional kindness
I have come to appreciate so much.
A kindness that says this is weird for you
but I do this every day for so many women
and it will be alright. Just a tug here
and a checking they’re straight
and no one will ever be able to tell
you went under the knife.
As I stare into the mirror,
I realise she’s right. I do feel
as if an absence I wasn’t even aware of
has been corrected. I step out
into the deep blue
of this glorious Indian summer,
filled with a sudden lightness
as if I could walk on water,
sprout miracle wings,
soar up into the September sunshine
and sing of my new found equilibrium.
Here’s a link to my commissioned poem for National Poetry Day – Coming Back