Cerebrovascular Accident

Ten or twelve
Only ten or twelve
Strokes of havoc
Quite unselve…

(from Binsley Poplars, Gerard Manley Hopkins)

Self-pity. It’s Amy Clampitt’s fault:
blame amy.
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
Go there?
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 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 pray.
Nor ask, scratch that itch;
Never again speak my love? Never indite?
Not utter?
Mouth fail, tongue in jail,
Hand flail, pen fall?
That stroke, that stroke,
What, never crack a joke?
Never?
No, not
Ever.

Self-pity is the sincerest emotion.

Twenty Swear Words

I celebrated my 67th birthday recently. By the age of 67 my vocabulary should be just about complete: now that I’ve reached the age of forgetting, I’m not likely to remember new words.

But my eldest grandson believes otherwise. His present to me was a list of words that Shakespeare coined. He thought I’d appreciate them. He tells me they are swear words.

I drove that 10-year old and his seven-year old twin brothers to school today. In a chorus of loving name calling that began with the familiar “Captain Big Nose” they quickly turned literary.

“You Huge Hill of Flesh!” was something to contemplate.

“You Huge Bombard of Sack!” had me looking down to my lap.

“You Swollen Parcel of Dropsies!” was pleasingly clinical and accurate. My calcium channel blocker does in fact cause me some fluid retention.

“You Prince of Wales!” puzzled me. Surely no insult, unless we are supposed to hear Prince of Whales – the prince being the Sperm Whale – and the ejaculation some sort of perverse tribute. As I frowned in contemplation of the words of the Bard, the three kids were helpless with hilarity. This epithet somehow became me. The more they chanted “Prince of Wales” the funnier it became and the more we all four enjoyed it.

Eventually the ten-year old Shakespeare scholar moved on to “You Bull’s Pizzle!” He realized from my facial expression that this was a winner. Once they learned that the pizzle was the phallus of a farmyard animal (famous as the projectile with which Jude woos Arabella in the Hardy novel) they wouldn’t let it go.

I was a Bull’s Pizzle all the way to school.

As they dismounted from the car in high good spirits, they added “You Foot-Licker!”

I farewelled each with a kiss and “You Vile Standing Tuck!” – the last word from Captain Big Nose.

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