By Alan Gillis
Emptied, precious, querulous, frail,
a box of butter biscuits by the bedside,
dun pills in a pale plastic tray,
your grandmother lies in her tiny bones
and mumbles, mysterious, while you say nothing,
barely thirteen, blank as the day.
You were to keep an eye on her
breathing, her little bones heaving,
and your eyes scan figurines, mementos
on the windowsill — Little Bo Peep has lost
her head — and green fields through the window:
hay barns, small farms, a chicken battery shed.
Rows upon rows of chickens.
There was a funnel hung from a gibbet
that swung like a big steel conical conundrum
above their dun feathers — the color
of your grandmother’s tights scrumpled on the floor.
Even a year before, she would have swooned
for shame at the sight of those tights half-trailed
under her bed, their crinkled wee ankles
jouking out, as if they had crawled under
and tipped their wrinkled cargo into the void —
your grandmother in bed, waiting for the spoon.
Her weak breath does not reach heaven
but hazes among the chipped figurines,
the dull color television’s black screen,
fading flesh-colored flowers on the wall-
paper, dun as the wings of those dirt-crusted
rows upon rows of throbbing chickens.
When you dropped one into the funnel
its head pushed through that blood-rimmed O
to stare chicken-eyed at the other side,
blackened numbles and giblets
upon which it would soon stream
like warm port, its feet still in a fidget.
What gets passed on, through generations?
Your grandmother tries to speak. Her bony
fingers clutch your hand — and you bend
your head down. But you’d get more sense
from the sea in a seashell as your father
enters the room beaming, Well! Well?