Lifting the Lid

by Valerie Laws

(Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm)

Full fathom five in A&E, my father
Lies white as a cuttlefish blade, suddenly granted
The sailor’s death war denied him. Water runs
Clear from his mouth and the puncture wounds
Where they pumped in saline to keep his heart afloat
Too late. Holed below the water line, he’s drowned,
Awash, beached, bleached, my pale hand red raw beef
Beside his dead man’s fingers. Our nails, I see
For the first and last time, are exactly the same shape.
Lividity branches up his sides like coral,
As the corpuscles see-saw and sink,
Silt in the veins. The nurse has battened down
The long-sighted eyes that made him a pilot, too young
For the navy in a war he couldn’t wait to join,
After a fisherman’s childhood, the curve of cobles
At Cullercoats like the sweep of an eyelid
Over the North Sea’s blue.

I think of him sinking, in his sweat-damp bed,
The paramedics baling in vain, his drowning,
Puzzled voice, ‘I think I might be dying,’
The aneurysm, an unseen fist in the gut,
An anti-heart, leaking into his belly, blood pressure
going down, ‘I can’t breathe,’ down, ‘can’t breathe’,
down for the last time. Swollen as a stranded seal,
as if he’d swallowed the sea, his keel of a chest –
his blanked face – I lift one eyelid, see his eye true blue,
Like those of our Viking ancestors, fierce as the harsh views
He and I fought over, now rinsed clean of blood and rage,
Truly an iris, afloat in its bowl of wet, white china,
Blue as the bruised top of limpet shells
Sanded by tides, the slaty violet of mussels, the white
Like crusts of barnacles, sea-scoured bone.