The Mythicals – 2: a study of grief
An experimental piece to end The Mythicals’ sequence of poems.
we see her black clad form shuffling to the door; she opens, a mourning cloud hanging in her eyes, turns back inside; we, suitably masked, hands gloved – even though we are family – invite ourselves in. she’s seated by the window, behind her the carved dolls, the wooden beasts they’d arked and brought with them from Kenya. her husband stares suited from the wall, his sharp moustache, oiled and flared, a proud symbol of his high engineering status. she does not wait for us to sit, my mother, sister and i, starts to sing – a song of passing which I know well, having heard my mother’s wailing when, yet, another in the family died. ‘why,’ she asks, ‘why am i still standing, when my sons, one by one are being taken, following so quick in their father’s step? will He take them all before i see my own flames rising? ’
five sons and a daughter she had, cousins we first met
when, expelled from Uganda, we disgorged from the planes,
chartered by Idi as a farewell gift, and awaiting stamped entry
sensed the scent of a blood we’d thought long dried.
“mum,” he said, “I’m not feeling well. I think I’ll sit down.”
‘we were in the garden. he’d brought wildflower seeds,
and we stood planning the planting once lockdown lifted.’
the room has not changed; plastic flowered, ceiling crumbling,
pictured with those that have passed and just passing through,
my uncle’s portrait dominant, surrounded by a parade of sons –
only two alive now – and the institutionalised daughter.
‘he always came at four. on the dot. never a week missed.
this time he’s here at one. never done that before.’
“he knew his time had come,” my mother says.
“he had to say goodbye. God gave him that grace.”
‘he was sitting, and I, fussing, went to make some tea.
still in the chair when I returned. sensed something wrong.
he had his hand on his heart, eyes closed.
“Dev,” i said, “i’ve made you a cup.”
he did not move. touched. was growing cold. i did not know
what to do. shaking, my hands, eyes blind. i could not
see the buttons on my phone, i tried, i could not dial.
i ran to the neighbour’s, they were not in. across the road
i went. knocked once, twice, loud, then ran back here.
they followed me. “auntie, what is up? tell us, tell us.”
i led them to the garden, pointed. they lifted, laid my son on the earth,
tried to shake his heart. nothing but a little foam from his mouth.’
“death turns the heart to stone,” my mother looks at me,
wanting to comfort the other, touch. I shake my head;
she must live to see my daughters tall, many seasons still.
“he was a good boy. worked so hard, late into the night,
him and his wife. never took a penny from his dad.
Was saving for a bigger house.”
he had his father’s business acumen,
built his marketing firm from scratch,
employed a dozen or more,
servicing clients here and abroad.
married to an Albanian – met her at a tech fair –
with a daughter now nearing ten.
‘what will become of them? he did everything.
when mine left me, i’d never been inside a bank
or paid a bill – kept busy in the kitchen feeding – and had to learn.
at least she speaks a little English, that is a comfort.’
as i watch i see her reaching back,
pulling her dead boys into the now –
the burnt flesh of the first (an accident in a bakery);
the fish nibbled corpse of the second (a suspected overdose);
and behind her now the rotund shape of her third, struggling to breathe –
as if their stricken ghosts can re-energise these emptied rooms.
‘such good boys,’ she says. ‘did not deserve to die the first two.
turned by their wives, thieving bitches, stealing the mother’s heart away.
but this one, he had no stain, and I no longer a mother to him.”
she cries into her shawl, searches for a tissue in her rolled up sleeves
and wipes at eyes that are dry.
“they were formed fully in your belly,” my mother says.
“will always be your sons, no matter the colour of the day.”
‘yes, they will always be mine. no others,” and begins to weep again,
asking that the fires which will consume her son come soon for her,
curses death which has kept her waiting, a mother stranded.
the telephone rings; it is another mourner scheduling.
we take our leave, she standing, my mother promising to return.
i dare not look back, my gaze on the road rolling ahead,
the sound of the song of passing chasing me to my own ground.