Landline, long-distance, he tells me about the fall:
her coming home through the field by the river, alone,
trying to climb over the sheep fence;
then the earthy fact, the impact of lying there in
the damp grass, the edge-of-winter mud
where the sheep step, where the dogs sniff and lift,
trying to drag up, broken-hipped, waiting for a passerby not to,
when this slips out, like a hushed admission:
She’s always had quite poor balance, he says –
and it hits me, like thin ice on the lake,
not the way she could never ride a bike
like the other mums, never put her head
underwater, never let us go all that way
to try ice-skating in Peterborough;
but the fact that he doesn’t say mum.
It’s like a glimpse of soft skin under armour,
the pink of the tongue behind the mostly closed lips.
Not mum, that almost-mumble, like a stone
gulped by water, that self-censoring numb,
a hmm like a fish glumly swallowing,
that repetitive sense that whatever she said
was without question / welcomely accepted.
She, he says, an open sustain, a free
unsmothered, unhooded from motherhood,
the shh whispering into the secret
that this person I lived in, who grew me,
has existed for him longer than me,
in a way he alone in the world knows.
It’s as if I can hear for the first time
from under the constructions of marriage
and parenthood, from under the rubble
of the collapses of body and brain,
that She like the most belling appeal,
the simplest underpinning principle;
as if I’ve been given a close-in glimpse
of them in the beginning, stepping out
in a sheep field near Corbridge, would it be,
the river grinding out of the winter,
him helping her over a fence, maybe,
her heart not skipping a beat, but leaping.