He used to tell stories:
how my mother would visit him at Oxford
and cook three-course meals on a single burner
while they sported the oak,
which, he explained, meant they kept
the heavy wood door chained.
In the end, he drank so much
telephone calls didn’t reach him.
They fell through the wire,
and you shied from his thick, warm voice.
His great chest shrank at seventy:
the captain of the first XV,
the rugger boy who scored three tries
the day I was born.
In the hospital
nurses fluttered like sheets
along the hallways;
through the window, a garden party sky.
I thought of that wartime summer,
the one all Englishmen seem to remember
whether they were alive, or not yet born,
or dying in the air in Spitfires.
He was a kid then,
lugging books and his gas mask.
A part of that world was his —
the tea on the grass,
and the big beneficent clouds, promising
they would also be there
that day in Kelowna.
But he didn’t speak.
I made an awkward joke to his jaundiced head
about how I hadn’t expected to see him so soon,
and took my place.
His breathing filled the room.
When it stopped, his wife cried
and shouldered out,
ignoring my mothering arms.
I crept back in before they took his eyes,
kissed his yellow brow,
our skin briefly the same.