©COPYRIGHT CATHY GRINDROD // ALL RIGHTS RESERVED 2015
Close a piano lid and the music inside will die,
keys yellow like tobacco stains on fingers,
strings tighten in their cage. Only milk
will make the ivory shine white again.
My mother taught me this, and how to play;
how to sit with one tune in a beige front room
as dusk is falling and the children call outside;
how to leave the dark wood stool when told,
when note for note is perfect; black, white.
Then Mr Kubilius, who showed me Bach
was silver, red, and stamped his boots;
Debussy turquoise, sea, and crystals
catching light, soft pedalling translucency of air.
My fingers learned to speak for me,
the branches of a lime tree sweeping
over blue draped windows, casting
cooling shadows over amber light. I played,
while Mr Kubilius closed his eyes, and smiled.
Taking tea with Byron
Come back. Let this gentle greenness lure you –
the lovely thwack of cricket balls
beneath the elms. You could crack for me
that code of numbers I have never understood,
beside the old pavilion, taking English tea.
Bad to trample grass round ornamental flower beds.
Let’s do it! Let’s hide out in ivy-covered tunnels,
stir up the stew pond, vault monastic walls,
startle swans beside the lake with manic yells,
shoot antlers off the stags’ heads in the hall.
You considered lobster salad and champagne
the only fitting viands for my sex. You’ll learn.
For a while, I’ll acquiesce – I, in my petticoats, at home,
as we eat supper here, beneath this Japanese pagoda.
Flick of pithy orange peel; coy carp, white stone.
And now I’ll tempt you to a weeping willow’s shade,
lie with you, hidden at its swaying core, while peacocks keen,
yawp-yowling from their turrets to the dark drop below,
grieving for unfinished pasts, or creaking out a warning cry:
Beware! Beware! She may be dangerous to know.
(It’s not what they took; it’s what they left behind …)
And still I dream of white gloves; phantom
gloves that slip a window sash, curtains
gliding softly on their runners, eased
apart, returning sleek to cover tracks.
Gloves slinking into leaves
of neatly ironed handkerchiefs, lace
underwear, sending silken scarves
free-snaking with a stroke.
Filigree of earring hooks and sleepers
butterflied across a bed.
Drawers slid awry in babies’ rooms.
Silver rings teased out from secret
boxes, nylon pillows skating
from their cases, bulked with air.
A message, left unsigned; cat’s cradle
woven in a pair of mitten strings.
Sneaking out, to leave behind
a window, door, and gate agape.
Finale, with a circled sleight of hand,
the house, slipped inside out;
home to empty space;
the desolation in a fingerprint.