Eleven Past Nine Poem by Tony Jolley

Eleven Past Nine

Rating: 5.0

The angle of light cast by the low-voltage downlighters
Produced a seagull-shaped shadow
On the station-style clock face set upon our piano,
Banking the bird ever-so-slightly to the right
On its eleven-past-nine wings.
Even manufactured, artificial,
Contrived in my mind
It was still effortlessly beautiful -
Time flying;
Time flown
Above the photo of my parents:
That photo.
That last photo.
The one before I became singularised
And downsized
In the only heritage department that matters
Or ever will.
You brought me into the world,
Though you paid a daughterless,
Son-plus-less price for the privilege.
I took the photo:
That last photo,
With my beloved OM 10,
Your 18th birthday present to me
Which faithfully served its in-built purpose
And registered your image:
The pink blouse with the high, ruffed neck
You'd bought in M&S;
The green, so-soft-it-felt-like-velvet denim jacket,
Size 8 or less, that you'd had off Tess,
All leaning into Dad's neck
And his pride and joy, Pringle polo-shirt
The same way you used to slide
Your gammy leg behind the good
Out of comfort and habit
To hide the hurt scored into the scar
That Time would never heal,
Could never heal,
And I could never undo or unmake
No matter how hard I might hope or try..
Or pray.

I squashed a chocolate marshmallow once.
Squashed it right into the suit skirt
You were shot wearing on your Blackpool honeymoon,
Your legs still strategically crossed, of course,
[Though that was a barely-acquired and not yet ingrained habit
Courtesy of the bike crash on the East Lancs Road
Which almost swept you and any hope of me away with it.]
For the life of me,
Or the death of you,
I can't remember whether
I really remember it,
Or whether I only remember being told I did it.
Either way,
You were beautiful to me
In a way that language can't contain.
You were amazingly you
Though I wasn't yet me
Any more than
'Could be', 'might be',
Or 'maybe someday':
I was merely possible, potential…

In 25 years you would leave early.
Carried off by a coronary:
A 'myocardic infarction' –
A line that lives only in 'Emergency Ward 10' scripts
Or in your worst nightmares –
Which dropped you like deadwood to the carpet:
The last chime of the genetic timepiece ticking you down inexorably
After all the illnesses insurance proposals prefer you not to have
Had taken their toll and stolen your future from us both.

Freak chance dictated that, for once, I wouldn't be there...
I would be masterminding some senseless, meaningless
Shopping centre exhibition somewhere.
'Masterminding' be damned:
I was no more than a glorified mule,
Humping and heaving supposedly easy-erect stands
And reams and reams of pointless promo-paper
Extolling the pleasures of:
'Poole: it's a beautiful place'
Or 'Christchurch: where time is pleasant'.
Maybe I should turn my toes up in Christchurch, then;
But you died that day in Poole
And whatever beauty it might have had died to me too.

Me, I ended up returning Dad's call
From a piss-reeking phone-box
In a dirty grey loading bay -
God forgive me
Irritated that he'd been ringing me
When I'd got more than enough on my plate.

No more doing when he told me.
No thinking.
No more being:
No nothing;
No feeling.
An eternity where not even deity can hear you scream.

In your sudden prison
No walls to give the comforting reassurance of an echo:
No rebound;
No reflection,
No reminder.

Memory frantically ransacking its cabinets
To find something of you to hold on to
And scraping its fingernails down the cliffs of failure
Like Wile E. Coyote
Falling out of sight in slow motion down the canyon wall
A look of sad resignation set deep in his eyes.

She'd gone.
She'd gone and some bastard had stolen all I had left of her.
Or had I just lost her myself?
And could I handle the guilt if I had?
Surely I could conjure her.
Who could know her better?
For god's sake I'd kissed her forehead at 6AM,
Leaving her a PG Tips tea she probably wouldn't wake to find warm,
But I'd smiled and left it anyway…
Maybe I left toast too, I can't say.

No going back now.

No going home.
No going on,
Just a going.

Going like an Okie in the Dustbowl days:

Out of her;
Out of here.

Eyes raw, glazed and open
Like a stuck sash window,
Staring blankly as the scenery streamed past
Like the backdropp to a poor stage show you'd prefer to sleep through.
Only way to stop the tears from coming
And my heart from leaping out of my throat
And hurling itself willingly to whatever oblivion
Might be waiting outside the carriage.

Taxi rank for Waterloo was 50 deep.
Waited for 10 minutes,30 seconds or four hours
And it was still 50 deep.
Couldn't take it.
Walked to the head of the queue.
'My Mum's died… would you mind if I....? '
Don't know if they did.
Took the next one anyway in a trance.
Couldn't have taken any more unwelcome time to think –
Hurt too much.
Had to be moving.

Must have been about
But there were no bloody seagulls around the station clock this time.

Kevin Wells 05 January 2009

The most therapuetic of your pieces that I have read thus far.... There is much here that has waited a long time to come out. I can tell by the way it gathers pace emotionally, that once you started to let it out, the floodwaters took over. You have shared with us the most personal of pictures which is far beyond the capability of a multitude to empathise with. I feel proud to think I know you well enough - along with Fay and Vi - to say that I do. I salute your skill and your honesty.

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