Danube 1994

by Paul Talbot

after Dad spread his legs on the balcony over ten-foot waves and dripped melon and sweat on his belly

and the juices dried to a hairy red ring and the pips sank in his navel like he was planting them there

 

and inside Mum gently lifted my clothes from the suitcase and positioned my toothbrush next to the basin

and folded my Beano boxers in the bedside drawer though I said I was too old to wear them

  

the cleaner took me in the full of her palm            cardboard skin hot and rough like Black Sea sand

rasped her revelations through pitted teeth with the funk of catfish in the buffet bins

 

when my elbow scraped the wall a paste bloomed of blood and plaster forked in terracotta peaks

at dinner she poured lukewarm buttermilk to the brim of my Horezu cup a good boy            a good boy

 

on the trip I kept her secret but when Dad saw a Pied Wheatear dart to the crown of the reeds

I borrowed his binoculars and watched it kill and shrink high from the Danube to the size of its spoil

  

laughed when Mum got back in the bus with mud streaking down in a V from her eyes to her chin

and I felt the damp heat of the delta            gone-off buttermilk on my unbrushed teeth

 

later I packed Horezu in Beano            unworn            flew them two thousand miles from Neptun to Stafford

these days my scar catches London’s weak light with the yellowed whiteness of dairy in clay