Old Man With A Pencil
He writes notes to himself, against the possibility
that something important won’t stick in memory.
The small pains move around. At first
dismissing, he now gives them his attention.
He writes: That one tastes like tainted milk.
Walking, he crosses a small field, diagonally,
aiming for the corner post.
He writes: To walk, move the ground backwards.
Later, visiting the large ash in the deep declivity,
he sees that the tree
has dropped another branch.
He writes: Let it go, old man.
Back home, he hears the furnace.
Odd, how, as if on its own, it shuts down,
making a sheet-metal sound.
Has he forgotten? Has he missed something?
The thermometer by the back door reads six above.
Water, dripping from the eave. He writes:
No skating for sure. Do the children know?
And the firewood, getting damper.
It will hiss before it catches.
He decides not to mention this.
He sits on a weathered chair by the woodpile.
It’s a chair he remembers, clearly. Why is he sad?
He writes: It will hold me up as long as it can.
The fencepost tops rotted and birds nested there;
I knew it from not being tall enough and reaching up.
I knew very little about memory, what was settling,
what was vanishing forever.
Puzzled, timid, curious, fearful of what
the grownups were so careful not to talk about.
When my grandfather died and was lying face-up, eyes closed,
he became “the body.”
Before then, on the long drive north to Canada, to the farm,
his death was something that was going to happen.
It was why my mother became so angry when my father, driving,
admitted he hadn’t brought his best suit.
She said crossly, “What if something happens!”
I knew that he knew that it was going to happen, because
it was why we were going.
And I knew why he hadn’t wanted to bring his suit,
but I couldn’t say it.
Just as I knew why my father, having been told that we were too late,
walked alone to the barn shortly after we arrived.
William Gilson was born 1941 in New England and moved to the U.K. in 1995. His poetry, short fiction, novella and essays have appeared in magazines in the U.S.A. and U.K., most recently the New England Review, Warwick Review and Tears in the Fence, as well as several anthologies. He’s the author (with T.E. Gilson, photographer) of Carved in Stone: The Artistry of Early New England Gravestones, Wesleyan University Press, 2012. His pamphlet ‘Monkey Puzzle’ (2015) is available from Wayleave Press.