Even the words for ordinary,
everyday things are failing you now
like old labels that come unstuck
and get muddled beyond recall.
I do my best to help you,
as together we puzzle out
what exactly it is you mean.
It isn’t an easy task —
I’m not a mind-reader, Mum,
and you don’t give me much to go on.
Your periphrases, though accurate enough,
are somehow beside the point.
“The thing that holds water,” you say,
I lamely render as “jug”,
only to find it was “radiator” you meant.
There’s even a name for it,
a word for the loss of words,
though it isn’t one I use.
I work around it instead,
not wanting to worry you.
“It’s just old age,” I say,
or “because you’re feeling tired.”
You seem satisfied with that,
though you’ve seen it happen before —
to your sister and some friends.
We don’t need words for it,
this thing that’s bothering you;
we both know what it means.
When I come to take you out,
you’re expecting someone else.
“Who is it?” I ask, concerned
(the old are so vulnerable).
Oh, it’s no one I know, you say,
just someone you’ve met somewhere
who drives you around in his car.
I check your diary to see,
but there’s nothing there for today
except for the entry I made,
against which you’ve pencilled
five ticks and written “Important!”
above, doubly underlined.
You’re glad it’s me, you say.
The other man means well,
but you find his visits dull:
he doesn’t talk, just drives.
Well, thank you; it’s good to know
that whatever else I am,
at least I’m not a bore —
except that this other man,
the fellow you describe,
he sounds a lot like me,
right down to the fact that
he recently cancelled coming,
because he had a cold.
Perhaps there have always been two —
the person I think I am
and the one you complain about.
We give him another ten minutes
and when he still doesn’t appear,
we drive to the café as usual.
Our talk, as always, proceeds in parallel,
you ignoring what I say.
I’m used to it — I’m your son —
but the stranger who takes you out,
he must be some kind of saint.
It’s very dull being the other man.
A laminated sheet lists
activities for April.
“I don’t bother with that,” you say.
“They’re trying to baby me.”
Well, Tai Chi in the lounge
or a pub night in with Dave
may not be quite your thing,
but there’s plenty else besides:
garden walks with Pam,
or classical music with Jean,
or memories, Jean again.
(They keep her busy, Jean.)
But no, you’re adamant:
you’d rather be in your room
with the radio for company
than join in silly games.
Yet I’ve seen a photograph
of you with your white hair
practically flaring the shot,
a paintbrush in one hand,
your normally dull eyes
sharpened to a point,
as you put the final touch
to a daffodil you’ve drawn.
The outline looks a bit shaky,
but that may be just the breeze
and smearing the yellow a little
just makes it more radiant.
I want to tell you, “Well done!”
for coaxing your Welsh, spring flower
from under forgetful snow,
but how dare I patronise?
Stephen Claughton’s poems have appeared in magazines, including Agenda, Magma, Poetry Salzburg Review and The Warwick Review, and online at Ink, Sweat & Tears, London Grip and The Poetry Shed.
9 thoughts on “Three poems from Stephen Claughton”
I love these. I’ve a dear friend who’s in a similar situation to this mother – she doesn’t have any children but she’s loved, nevertheless.
Thank you so much. I’m sorry to hear about your friend, but it’s good she has support. I enjoyed your own recent poem in “The Shed” — an intriguing take on the grieving process.
What lovely, poignant poems. The idea that you are also ‘the other man’ is both ingenious and sad, and, in its humour, uplifting.
Thank you for this. I’m so pleased you liked them. In particular, it’s good to get feedback about the tone — something I always worry about with subjects like this.
You’ve no need to worry. These ring true. They are loving and sensitive and they make me want to cry and laugh at the same time!
Delicately done. Lovely.
Beautifully caught – and such a light touch. These poems should be available to anyone whose elderly parent(s) are struggling with the frustrations and limitations of age straitjacketing their brains.