Marjory: born January 1804 died August 1805
At first, it is nothing:
a blemish, a blush of sky
bruised by the coming storm.
But it flourishes and grows.
The hydrangea darkens against the lawn.
Lay aside poultices and medicines,
lift up your empty hands.
Consider the life thriving inside us
as a birch, a silver birch. We think
nothing can possibly trouble it
then, for no reason, in the still
summer air, a leaf shakes.
Helen born January 1808 died February 1811
If I had cried sooner, they would have known sooner
but I carried the pain, its terrible, secret gift,
sullenly inside me, for as long as I could bear.
I knew it was my shame. This, all children believe.
Such sadness, so many tears. Few of them mine.
Were they crying for the loss of the child,
for the loss of the world I was leaving, or for
that other world, the world they had yet to find?
Jane born March 1814 died January 1818
Infusion of yarrow.
Prayer and then further prayer.
The desperate, hopeless,
hopeful, repetitive, heartfelt,
bargaining with whoever we imagine
claimed they made and loved us all.
Peter born and died March 1819
These are the ones loved best of all -
golden haired, fresh cheeked, shy,
because they remind us of the little
messengers He sends down to us,
or pretends to send down,
to inform us that the world
we are living in is not the one
we should be grieving for.
James born and died June 1820
Each eye a porthole of empty sky
turned towards the ceiling’s hopeful shore.
Somewhere in me, dry
summer grasses, the rusty shears
of swallows over the lane. My parched mouth
gaped, I was a furnace. She held water
to my lips but I would not drink.
I was only crying for the water to be laid in.
Listen, even now there is a fringe of dust
clinging to my words.
Today, though no one but me can see it,
the firth is a blue field sown with gulls.