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Paul O'Prey: a poem

Flotsam, Jetsam

We are an equation. You subtract, I add back in

not just your name, my name, but every word we ever said – each glance, each neglect re-lived, reclaimed, recalculated. *****

Even when I say it's me, it's him you hear, his hand you feel. Even when I say mum, it's me, you laugh and tell me don't be daft. I say nothing and squeeze your hand, the way he squeezed your hand. You smile, squeeze back and whisper, you and me, eh? *****

I can't say lost, exactly. You can't hold what's lost so tight, or kiss. And it's you all right, but for the swearing.


When I come in all eyes turn. Every mother sees in me their son or lover. I head across the room to "your" chair, by the telly – always on but never watched, like a dog barking at the night. I kneel down and touch your arm. You stir and sigh, not quite asleep just in a dream, just in a very deep dream. *****

To you we are a cloud of starlings swaying on the winter sky: there's a hundred, a thousand, one – impossible to tell. *****

A snatch of song and you're off. You never sang so much as now – your voice defiant, still strong enough to defy the bombs, and thought of bombs. *****

I bring you feather, cockle-shell, a piece of driftwood smoothed by the sea, picked from the shore you walked each day. Flotsam and jetsam I say. You hold them in your hand,

stroking them in silence. From your garden, the summer's final rose, thorns clipped so it cannot hurt. You breathe its perfume deep. Wonderful, you say, I'll give it to my mum. *****

Each time now feels like our last –

the last lame joke, the last song,

the last kiss of the hand

(your new-found gentility).

Hold my hand you say

and say you'll never leave me.

Our Lady of Encores,

one of which must catch us unawares

clapping at an empty stage.

In the lounge there's laughing.

I hear someone shout

live for tomorrow.

Paul O'Prey's poems have appeared in various magazines, including PNR, Poetry Wales, South, The Shop (Ireland) and Shearsman. He has edited two anthologies of poetry written during the First World War as well as the selected poems of Robert Graves, Laurence Binyon and Mary Borden. He runs Dare-Gale Press – aimed initially at rediscovering neglected poets, but also focussing on new poetry, and poetry and the environment.

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