Holly Jane Ewens

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When Bodies Fail Us

He hands me the receiver
(our middle one –


he’s turning out
a bohemian boy


you’d be chuffed)
I’m cooking puttanesca


and a poetry friend is coming over.
Three nights ago I dreamt she died, your mother.


You were there in the dream
taking her from us.


I can’t breathe, she coughs
down the line.


I press the buttons, 111.
Turn the sauce from simmer


to off
race twelve doors south.


Stand at her back
rubbing it


my hand a crescent-moon
across frangible bones.


Her mohair catches
in the claws of my ring


she wants to know
if they’ll take her away –


her skin
her tortoiseshell nails too young


to be collectable –
At sixty, this cannot be the time.


I hold open the door
as they push on through


with cylinders of sterilised air.
We share a joke


about pulse and how hers
slips past


nearly everyone’s fingers.
She is ushered out


to the ambulance: but will you be okay,
I ask, travelling on your own?


I promise to secure the house
return to the children


the puttanesca, the guest. Leave
her to cough up blood


on a triage bed. By early next morning
her long hair has been swept


back tress by grey tress
and two hours to say goodbye means the world to us.


Her answer to the question revolves
absolutely, in my head:


an amber lozenge
I can see her through


if the word is held up to the light.
Her hair is red again, she is waving.


Moving, days later
potplants from the back of her house


I find a helix aspersa
has escaped its broken shell.


I carry the snail’s husk
and the children circle round


we lie it on the floor –


marvel in whispers
at the profoundly departed thing.

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