Tuesday Poem: ‘Grandmother’ by Sarah Jane Barnett

Grandmother

i

I fly for thirty hours;
she seems pleased to see me.

Perched in her chair we talk about her new home.
She has made friends with Eva, a long-stayer,
whose lounge is filled with flower arrangements.

I prefer minimalism, she says.

When the sun breaks we relocate to the backyard
where I read her the story of a geisha
taking a young maiko apprentice

whom she teaches to care for silk kimono,
separating each section to wash
then sewing them back together –

of the graceful tea ceremony where a rhythmic bamboo brush
discretely exposes her wrist –
of the art of secrecy.

As we speak I notice her ankles,
a flutter of dark moths on skin.
They’re filled with fluid, she says
of the swollen splits and bruises.

ii

It’s raining.

She pops up every five minutes
to snake a hand through net curtains,
observe the retirement village – red brick units circling a fish pond –
and report on any activity.

Lois has made a dash for her car wearing a new parka.

The phone rings, Joss lost his sister last night.
He is the last of nine, and the oldest,
she says, her voice level.

The rain leaks colour from the day.
I scan the sky and follow individual drops
to the ground where they bounce up into pin-heads.

At 6pm she declares, The bar is open
and passes me a glass of sherry.

iii

Grandmother borrows a wheelchair.
I haul it out of the boot
to construct in the Whitley Court carpark.

You might push me in the lake, she jokes.
I park her by an ornamental gazebo.

Are you okay? She waves me away,
walking stick laid like a child in her lap,
her eyes stroll the central avenue.

I explore the blackened ballroom,
the arched conservatory open to the sky –
through the caved roof clouds bunch together.

Wheeling her to the fountain for the water firing,
she tells me the myth of Perseus and Andromeda
as they pose before us – she pale, her hair motionless
on the breeze. One hand gently wards off the serpent.

After the show she fixes her jacket and I give my camera
to a tourist. The photograph reveals my hand cupped
around her shoulder – my smile a head above hers,
her shirt stepped in stripes to her chin.

iv

England needs 11 runs from 24 balls.
My sister Linda was named for Rosalind, she says,
the Shakespearean character.
A sprint between wickets.
She had a baby but he died quite young.

10 runs from 23 balls.
I don’t want people knowing that Dad was a bankrupt.
A statement. He was a good man.
I suggest his troubles were caused by the Depression.
He just didn’t have the head for money.
Someone hits a six.
Owning a bakery sounds nice, I say.
It was a pokey little place. After we lost it we lived
with Dad’s parents and then kept a pub in Wolverhampton –
where I took the University exam.
Someone hits a four and she makes a little fist
in the air.

Did you go?
No. My friend did though. Her father was a chemist.
The wickets are pulled from the pitch.

v

The Proms are on
so I am taught to make a trifle.

She heaves a crystal bowl onto the bench,
breaks a sponge into large cubes, her hands moving
mechanically as fruit and sherry are secured by jam.

Jam’s the family secret, she says and takes out glazed cherries,
sticky doomsday buttons pressed into custard.

When my Aunt and Uncle arrive they sip sherry
and jump up and down with the audience,
my Uncle singing from his knees like a sailor.

She sits on her cushion, feet tapping
under a blanket, the union jack clasped in one hand.

*

The engine is running.
At the door my Grandmother hesitates
so I bend down and wrap my arms around her.

I wave as the taxi navigates the car-park.
She waves back, her hand a small pigeon
against a brick-red sky.

‘Grandmother’ was originally published in JAAM 25. For more Tuesday Poems check out the hub.


2 thoughts on “Tuesday Poem: ‘Grandmother’ by Sarah Jane Barnett

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