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A J Hodson

For Terence Carter

I. The Method Actor

The talent in his liver was late to bloom.
Before the script could wilt in his grip,
he wafted Rigor Mortis up through it,
from bottom to top, until it stood quite straight.
His eyes tiptoed along the page’s crest
that seemed a countdown’s
length of sparkler or fuse.
As you can see, it’s bad news I’m afraid.
He’d been here before, but spotted
the full stop of tumour in the scan
quicker than the rumour of the baby
in ultrasound. Are you sure it’s there?
The doctor knew from the start
he was perfect for the background
role of ‘Dying Man Number Two’,
was born for it,
even though he could only
grasp a fistful of air where they said
she was, the almost-widow not yet cast
struggling to remember her lines,
while a nurse showed him how to throw
himself on his sword, then said:
You can take it from here. From then on,
he performed all his own injections
while on his belly the coddled
water bottle lay frankly like an Olivier Award
coercing him into limelight to say:
For this honour, I’d like to thank…

II. The Conversation

It’s all laid out.
A crumpled tissue, where you keep it
down your sleeve, shows itself,
exposed like the frill of a splash
captured among the breaker rocks.
Telling the family soon.
It was never in a conch,
this surge of sea. In your ear
you were lugging for the moon,
damn it, to do its job.
Packing up the pieces now.
Practising an expert tug of tablecloth
from under the coastal town,
waving away the crumbs
of picnic onto the pebbles.
Something but bones for the gulls.
Ignoring the froth of doilies washing
in, the napkins squawking overhead,
the castles toppling for toddlers, he’s learning
how to walk again towards the dismantling town.
Flapping sandals wish to talk.
The folding cafés and tea rooms there
that never wash up on the sands.
Is the right time to tell them when the tide
is going out or coming in?
I’ll be picking up the pieces then.

III. The Raincheck

The drains can’t swallow such truth.
Here it comes, just as they said it would.
Sometimes you can see wind’s arms
brushing it aside, forcing a path
through the crowd, going ahead.
As drizzle wets the cars, homeowners
shut their windows like eyes at an end
not yet arrived. Inside, a family is closing
ranks. Outside, Olympic rings link
in puddles stepped in by wellingtons.
Sloshing alone through the rain, a man
lowers the hood of his mackintosh,
uplifts his head, sticks out his tongue.
Here it comes, an image of heavy rain
dropping through his skeleton.

IV. A Ward

On the way in, there’s the soap
dispenser at the door helping us
to wash our hands of him.
There’s something certain
about the nurse
bearing the bedpan
to his room as she says
he’ll be with you shortly
and something unfamiliar
about the shower curtain
she glides around his bed.
We’ll see it sometime later,
at the crematorium, automated,
leisurely circling the coffin
like a tour guide’s route.
A loo flushes and the nurse emerges
removing the sagging old fruit
we brought him the last time.
He just couldn’t eat it, she admits
as she drags the curtain aside,
and he’s mostly brought back,
propped up in the adjustable bed,
and we’re mostly there too and we’re
on the way out, upholding deadpan faces
and ignoring the soap.

V. The Draught Excluder

There’s wind in the chimney
like breath down a neck.
As the door opens a crack,
then pushes wide, it swipes an arc
across the carpet, hisses
as an excluder rides the wave
of the draught that will squeeze
in from under the door
to walk all over his grave.
Two male nurses have come
wide with smiles full of gaps
they can whistle through
to visit him and his bed full of air.
They empty his catheter,
give the closest of shaves,
every week share the burden of care
with his wife, then leave the excluder
where it was pushed, to the wall.

VI. The Receptacle

You asked and I opened the hinged oak lid expecting a whole man jack-in-the-boxed but found only the ash of him. The usual disappointment of a package wrongly dispatched came rushing back, as if I’d been sent a box containing nothing but polystyrene and bubble wrap or the antique dust of a vase powdered in transit. No man there, no baroque ornament, just these fine, grey sleepers, each one of the trillion grains of him that mattered, laying down their afterlives to preserve the fragile, in absentia thing inside. That’s why they can’t be scattered.

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