Ten or twelve
Only ten or twelve
Strokes of havoc
(from Binsley Poplars, Gerard Manley Hopkins)
Self-pity. It’s Amy Clampitt’s fault:
In her “Beethoven, Opus111” –
A poem, its title promising
Music, but its texture and girth
Thick with root and thorn, and earth,
The toil of her farmer father, the clodded
Soil his foe (and freiheit!) and moil,
She speaks of his dying, his escape
Into air, and I wondered: how will I
I smiled to imagine his “last act,
to walk on air.”
But then I remembered: one hundred and seventy
on one hundred and ten, numbers that number my days, Dread then, of a stroke broke my smile:
To sit, endless,
Helpless, in my piss
And my shit? Well
That’s how I started, how my grandruby sits,
The happiest of souls, she laughs in fits –
Why might not I subsist, exist, persist –
Unlearn, and learn and earn to laugh like Ruby?
My Mum had strokes, stroke upon stroke –
The doctors lost count; but she, like Ruby,
Knew only stroke upon stroke
Of joy: I’ve never been happier in my life, Mum
Said. And meant it. And showed it.
Mum followed Beethoven into the quiet
Of the deaf, whither I tiptoe too: there
White noise abates, music awaits,
Remembered. And you hear less bullshite.
But if a vessel, sclerotic, brittle,
But block or blow or burst,
It’ll tear, shear, shatter my brain,
And blind me: in that pain – in that pain
Would I, could I smile again – in that dark?
If I, like eyeless Jacob upon the head of Ephraim
Rest my hand on Ruby: I’d smile again
But come that stroke
That takes away words –
My words, coin of my world,
Uncoined then, mute, truly broke,
To speak no more, nor write –
Not to ask, nor thank, nor say: I think…
Nor ask, scratch that itch;
Never again speak my love? Never indite?
Mouth fail, tongue in jail,
Hand flail, pen fall?
That stroke, that stroke,
What, never crack a joke?
Self-pity is the sincerest emotion.