His mother had done her best to keep his mind
on the painting they’d started together,
but his pallid nostrils twitched, lifted up,
sensed something in the air, or on my face.
Scuttling through a gap in the giggling fence
of other children huddled round the hutch,
he found it easy to slip the catch, and run,
his head hidden by the long tall grass,
which she had kept on saying should be green,
to the rabbit-hole, where he’d not be caught.
Clawing down the apple-crumble tunnel,
he wasn’t sorry he’d screamed this morning
as she tried to cut his sharp bunny-nails.
The burrow had that nest-of-arms smell like
when she was warm-straw in her happy-dress.
No, he didn’t envy Ben’s thick coat of fur:
it was good for burying your face in
and for drying your cheeks while your fingers
gurgled in the soft-water of his floppy ears,
till the owl-ringed weariness floated from your eyes,
gliding down into Ben’s dark vigil of honesty:
animal truth that wouldn’t blink or look away,
a sky-darkness you could sleep in now, soft-centred
like the kangaroo-pocket your bedroom used to be.
‘Come on, darling.’ He could see his Daddy’s
twinkling stars much more clearly now,
‘Come on, love,’ all around him, bright,
like all the nicest smiles he’d ever known.
‘l want to stay with Ben.’
‘It’s time to go,
Daddy will look after your painting.’
His mother lifted him up, stroked his hairless head.
‘The nice doctor’s waiting,
Ben will still be here next time.’
And another time …. But this time,
going home, clawing up the apple-crumble tunnel
into the bright starry night outside,
we blinked, looked away, and gently cried.
Ben: the rabbit in Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children 1985