The Poem in the Locket

by Natalie Perman

After ‘The Photo in the Locket (For Louise)’ by Jackie Kay

There are things I don’t tell her
private things, words eaten
in sleeping bookshelves,
a waitress watering plastic flowers.
My new friends speak fast
write less often; they come over
and strip the sheets,
leave the house bare. We smile
and eat alone
rushing through stages of life
in torpor. In a film
they carried powdered
sugar in urns like ashes and
I stopped having sugar cubes.
I’m forgetting things. Sooner or later J-’s adam’s apple began to
bob at his shirt. Once I bought an egg that was not
all yolk; I cried in the laundry machine.

I’m ashamed I haven’t kept this.
I dream of dressing moments up absurdly
in silk and crimson; but I search in
circles for the bus and keep missing it; the street
stained yellow. Really, I want to show
hummingbirds flickering in and out of view
sipping sweet sugar-water ambrosia and
swooning, not when I ran into shallow water
and was submerged. Maybe I could say the clouds rippled.

I want to have some physical remembrance;
a black and white orange carved
the shape of my grandmother
an ode to my grandfather’s depression
his rage engraved in a cherry pit.
I forget things. Sometimes I see
the steps to the old house shining
like a clavicle, green buzzing like
white noise.

In the locket I’m in the waiting room again.
It smells of instant coffee and printer
paper and the stairs keep stretching further
upwards. The doctor congratulates me
on my recovery and the stairs. The room
only has two walls. He’s trying to release me
but the file has been
forgotten, the papers
mixed up.