by Zaffar Kunial

Forget that old joke about timing, which I won’t rudely
repeat. I learnt that timing had a world to do with weight
transference between the feet, planting my front pole
down, and as the ball is middled, the burden on the back
foot amasses through the axis of tensed, stick-thin arms
to the sweetspot in the rootless willow. A kind of sacrifice

from one side to the other. The ball now hit, and staying
hit – airborne towards what the locked-in Aberdonian
grandmother I’d never meet might have called, on a sepia
day, the lift. Over the fence, from that first garden
to another address, all that wound-up string beneath
the skin. Gone. Mum’s gone, says Roseta, the girl at 60,

next to our 58, one morning while fetching the washing
from a line spiralling a shared stake. Gone where?
asks mine. Where’s your mother? … She’s dead? Dear God,
o love, mum says above the crossed wires. At her tears
I’m still cottoning on. Roseta, Zeta, who posted
my first Valentine, signed with a question mark I’d not

get. Whose mum was the only one who could get me
to sleep. To the country of that eternal beginningness.
She’d come round in the small hours mum would say,
hearing your cries, dad working nights, and she’d go
like this, jigging you in her arms, and you’d be off, gone.
She’d come from Barbados, her husband from Jamaica,

a one-time boxer; different islands, different tempers,
she’d tell mum. Fighting leaked in and past walls.
Silences too. Belted up. Once, innocent, naked,
I placed my penis through that fence, peed – till he waved
a pitchfork; fathers fist-fought. Once, Zeta’s dad shook
a crowbar. Mine raised mum’s school hockey stick.

Dad’s middle finger smashed. Feeling gone. Forever.
He made me press a needle to test the dead, knuckled
centre. The nerves, gone. Like my tongue under fizz bombs.
Gone. How that word’s weight returns me to a fenced world
at the point when mute, blue heavens – reflecting from high
on nextdoor’s greenhouse – amass the suddenest voice,

sharp as the pitch of a polestar. And the held sky falls in.