(after Thomas Hardy)
‘Don’t leave me’ she pleaded. ‘Stay just one more night.
We belong to each other; to part isn’t right.
You’ll sing a new song when you’re gone from my sight’.
They lay in the darkness. The moon overhead
gleamed pale on her arms, her pillow, her bed.
He remembered his mother in all that she said.
‘Believe me’, he whispered, his hand on his heart;
‘I couldn’t deceive you; I haven’t the art.
I’ll live with you here, till death us do part.’
She lay in the darkness and listened to rain.
They planned when they’d meet, all over again.
He left in the morning, and caught the first train.
‘Trust me’, he wrote, ‘I’ll be back with you soon.
We’ll sing the old songs by the light of the moon:
you’ll choose the lyrics and I’ll write the tune.’
She paced in the hall-way, she watched by the door.
She counted the times that she’d heard this before.
She knew by his words that she’d see him no more.
II. An old, old story
He’s married, but he’s ‘soon to be divorced’.
He promises he’ll leave; he brings her flowers.
‘Let’s take it gently; this must not be forced.’
He meets her twice a week for several hours.
They make love often, never in the night.
She keeps it secret from her closest friends.
‘One day’, he promises, ‘we’ll set this right.
I’ll marry you and that will make amends.’
For years the lovers carry on this way:
it’s what they like to do; it’s what they choose.
Adultery’s not difficult by day;
she’s single. What have they to lose?
She waits for him; turns other offers down,
gets angry; he prevaricates.
She takes an overdose one night, alone.
He waits outside her flat, and waits and waits.
He goes home to his wife; they lie in bed.
She murmurs gently, ‘you’re forever mine’.
He smiles, and sees no obstacles ahead:
‘there’s no one else, I promise. All is fine’.
III. A childless couple
She laid three strands on the stool by her chair.
He watched as she worked, with a tolerant air.
She threaded the strands and stitched them together.
He sat by the fire and approved of the weather.
The strands made a weave in the cloth, blue and gold.
He snored in his sleep, as men do when they’re old.
She rocked as she wove, with far-away eyes.
He dreamed of his dog, and its winning a prize.
She smoothed out the cloth and considered it done:
a boat on the sea, with a round smiling sun.
She murmured a name, and gazed at the door.
He woke from his sleep, fixed his eyes on the floor.
She un-picked the strands, and pulled them apart.
He observed that they looked as they did at the start.
She wanders now among discarded things:
old furniture, three carriage-clocks she bought,
trinkets and necklaces, two wedding-rings,
love-letters, bills – a pile she cannot sort.
The parrot in its cage still chatters as she walks
slowly, distractedly, from room to room.
She mutters something bitter as it talks,
responding from the other side of gloom.
A mangy cat lies curled up on its seat,
watching her every movement as she looks
for something written – legible and neat –
in one of her faded, old, unsorted books.
Something is hidden that she cannot find
in this dark cobwebbed lumber room, her mind.
V. A Wessex funeral
The first wife sat in a pew at the back –
old, bent double, and dressed in black.
The second wife stayed hidden away,
too sick to come to the church that day.
The third wife kneeled, with a front pew view
of the coffin as they carried it through.
Clutching her four kids close, she wept
for her new-born baby boy, who slept
as (beautiful, silent, slow, discreet)
five latecomers crept in from off the street.
Ageing each at roughly the same pace,
the women journeyed on, in life’s swift race –
while senseless under his black velvet pall
lay one who’d bragged he would outlive them all.
VI. Love letters
How strange to see them after all this time,
a little dusty but still free of grime,
fearlessly written in black felt-tip pen:
a script that never will be read again.
It wouldn’t have been right before today
to tear them up and throw them all away.
They needed hoarding for the ink to pale,
the sentiments to fade, the words grow stale.
How odd to stand here in the bright spring sun
binning them circumspectly, one by one.
I could have kept them, read them in old age,
shedding a tear while turning each fond page.
But no. My farewell ritual is right.
It’s better that they shouldn’t come to light.
Close up the dead years; they are over now –
a decade voided by a broken vow.