The Howdah

by Judith Dimond

She’s high up in the tower block, stranded
in a cage of glass, but no nearer the sun,
            can’t feel its warmth on her back – just another
missing visitor. She’s sitting at her kitchen table
                         where she spends most afternoons. Today
she fancies a chocolate cup-cake, the old-fashioned sort
with a silver foil frill – she’d lick the icing off, back then
            – all tongue and taste
teeth and touch, no sight required.
            She’d always enjoyed Regent’s Park
listening to the snorts and howls from the Zoo
            the shrieks escaping the Parrot House,
she and her sister fidgeting
in the queue for an elephant ride.
                                                               Back then,
            tigers paced in cages and chimps took tea
at four o’clock, sporting waistcoats, seated round formica tables.
She pours more gin into her mug, gropes
            for a cigarette, shifts in her chair, thinking
after all she’ll make a cup of tea; not the loose-
            leaf sort you had to strain like mum would brew.
She’s wondering what became
of Gran’s old biscuit tin, the one
with the elegant lady pressed into the lid.
                         If the carer comes on time tonight
she’ll ask for cheese on toast – with luck
it might be Vicky, the one who brings
            the scent of spices in on her clothes.
                         But for now, eyes wide open, she’s
            swaying in the howdah, knuckles white
with gripping the rim,
                         for fear of falling out.