Family Life

Days of Farewell

The double doors had rubber seals.

They swung open with a crash against the wall.

A porter pushed your stretcher through.

It was April Fool’s Day but no joke.


The doctor who greeted us was pretty, Indian,

dressed in a crop T-shirt and jeans.

She bustled between stretchers.

She looked about twelve years old.


Nurse and registrar spoke over you.

“Stroke” they told us,

as if you couldn’t hear, as if you couldn’t understand.

But I knew you could.


We left you in A&E,

beds stacked along the wall

in line, like piano keys,

but with no music.


It took five days for them to tell us

there was no hope of recovery.

We massaged oil into your hands,

wet your lips with water.


Eleven days later as I held your hand,

said a blessing, you died.

Your struggle had turned to grace.

I packed your things into a grey carrier bag and left.


winner of the Elmbridge Sherriff Trust Poetry prize 2014








catShe sat on the vet’s table, her coat black against a pale blue blanket.
She made no fuss, no attempt to fight; just sat quietly between my hands.
She still purred, though faintly, her  breath coming in short gasps.
The vet pierced her skin, pumped pink liquid into her vein;
seconds later her body sank down like a deflated cushion.

Eighteen years before, my son and I’d walked into a Richmond pet shop.
On a whim we’d imagined tabby and black companions for our new home.
There they were, waiting for us, as if knowing we would come;
He, all tiger-striped, and she a black and white chocolate-box picture,
her paws white-tipped, her nose a half-dab of pink and white splodge.

There was a touch of magic in the blackness of her coat,
a sixth sense of clairvoyance in the yellow glow of her eyes,
as if she had travelled some broomstick years before meeting us.
She would join me in the dark shadow of a sad moment,
lie beside me in candlelit meditation, adding her music to my silence.

We’d have our battles.  She’d outwit my careful plans, would hide
when children were due, or when we needed to take her to kennel or vet.
Oblivious of flight departures, she’d secrete herself into tiny spaces
of a cupboard, fireplace or the inaccessible centre beneath our bed,
forcing us to crawl and entreat her till she deigned to give in.

I thought I heard her bell this morning, turned as the wind blew the cat flap,
thought I caught her squeak of hungry greeting as I made breakfast,
took care not to tread on some half-eaten mouse on the now too-clean carpet,
expected her to jump onto the sofa of this dark winter’s evening;
but no, she’s just here, walking the long pathways of my mind.