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How Snow Falls
Like the unshaven prickle of a sharpened razor,
this new coldness in the air,
of something intangible.
the sinusitis of perfume without the perfume.
And then love's vertigo,
this snow, this transfiguration we never quite get over.
I Remember My Mother Dying
my ten-year-old son Vaska asked: Do you think your brother will try to murder you? My cock shrank.
His face was the colour of old glazed cheddar.
His right eyelid was straining open,
stitches stretched the parchment like the flysheet of a tent.
It was the face of someone about to be shot,
apprehensive as those Hungarian security police,
snapped by that Life magazine photographer John Sadovy, just as the trigger
was pulled in Budapest in 1956.
But I had to think about the speech my brother had just asked me to make in church.
something to say, to explain why my father's corpse was on display.
She repeated it to everyone as they offered their commiserations.
She was playing the indomitable wife:
and I wasn't going to let anyone else look after him now.' Pure pretence.
She went along with it, but the whole stupid idea had my brother's wonky, macabre steer.
to my brother's affected upper-gloss voice pledging to care for my mother. His solemn promise.
Three years later,
and terrorized the middle-aged female wardens,
a rip-tide of abuse by telephone every night and all night long.
It was a little freehold flat in sheltered housing.
by leaning on my front doorbell.
'I've brought you my mother's ashes.'
I gave him was a surprise to me.
my bare feet, my open dressing gown –
I don't think he was expecting me to spurn the sturdy screw-top bronze plastic urn.
his tight tie-knot shiny with dirt,
It was outside the Radcliffe Hospital.
like a madman. I laughed out loud.
to see my mother's body in the morgue.
taking legal advice,
Undertakers, not one but two firms,
In the end, though, he put her on display just like my father, for a couple of days.
of plastic cocoa-butter containers,
had a hidden pump, something recessed,
that something was seriously wrong.
she would berate my father for removing his dental plate
to rinse out a painful raspberry pip,
Sometimes when criticized, he'd jut out his bottom set,
his whole face a grotesque leer,
like a ventriloquist's dummy –
'At least there's the flat.
Just the two of us. The words were humble,
It was a declaration of love, disguised for her other difficult, distant son, as pure prose.
And I straightened the turquoise brooch on her right lapel and watched her fingers search
for the chipped gilt buttons, one by one,
'You're my protector.'
When she became worried about her mind,
HAROLD PINTER. OLIVE WALKER.
'How old was your father when he got married?' Answer:
'My mother never wanted me.'
A favourite all-purpose answer:
there was blood all over my back.'
a nursery rhyme,
Jack Sprat could eat no fat,
But with a drop of HP Sauce They licked the platter clean.
I remember another scrap of verse that represented Annapurna, F6, Everest:
Salvation Army, free from sin,
wispy delicacy, a gracefulness created by her partial sight loss.
She would stand,
When her brain began to struggle and fail, she became ugly.
Her nose got bigger.
Under her eyes, the bags were great wax seals, swags
on a medieval document.
I wanted to wash my hands when I left her flat,
survived the indignity of being on the loo:
at the end of even the briefest visit.
I was worried in case she lost her swallow reflex. She'd started to fast
and she was losing weight at speed.
'Yes, when you've drunk the milk.'
we make when someone is dying.
on her pillows. I stroke her hair.
Her: 'Can I lie down now?' Pretending to scoff,
the afternoon she was admitted to the Radcliffe Infirmary. He said,
'Do you know where you are?'
that is?' 'It's here.' 'But where are you?'
sitting up in bed?' 'Well, here.' 'Where is here?'
that her mental decline was the result of low sodium and haemoglobin counts.
That the weight loss had been stopped.
Her sodium level had been raised from 120 to 130. Dr Duodo was pleased,
but it needed to settle down at about 135, 140, or somewhere between.
A brain scan showed atrophy in places, some calcification, but no pathology,
so the decline could be reversed if she was properly nursed
and stayed in hospital.
for nursing her himself, at home.)
so different types should be tried.
it was difficult to assess in the area of the pancreas.
Dr Duodo was arranging a CAT scan.
then thinking I've read that before,
was cancer of the stomach wall,
We refused the offer of an endoscopy as intrusive and unnecessary.
Her chest infection was worse but antibiotics would probably do the trick ...
Best of Young British Novelists,
out of Philip Hensher's High-Table prose.
a CD from her Discman as a mirror to put on her eyeliner.
I remember Zadie Smith's story as the best thing in the anthology.
(I had plenty of time for bedside reading,
The story is subtly semi-allegorical.
terrorists who are fanatical have a snowball fight; a sturdy black girl
is heartbroken over a photograph.
to an absolute inner conviction.
The photo shows two people with noses sellotaped like pigs to their faces ...
Me: 'If you can use a word like bewildered,
Her [laughing]: 'I've got lots in my head, don't worry.'
Her: 'Where are you without a sense of humour?'
A wardrobe had fallen on her,
for twelve hours, it cooked,
My mother looked across
were kicking in: chemical euphoria after a haemorrhage caused by her cancer)
and loudly remarked,
She stirred her finger in the juice and pulled a face:
'It isn't even cooked.'
you wouldn't believe it, would you?
I told her I'd been to a reading by actors of a play by Nina [my daughter]:
'For a play, I think realism is the only sound basis.'
I had never heard her say
I said, 'we talked without it for at least ten minutes.
No, don't pretend: you understood everything before I found it in the bed.
You've been pretending all these years that you couldn't hear:
it was the ear jewellery you were after.'
spraying milk out of her mouth.
when I said I'd put the thing back in her ear.
going to put it in my bottom.'
There were none on the ward,
Every time a hair was plucked,
Yes, she said, yes. Yes.
It was sensual and very intimate.
'He's gone to watch the racing on TV.'
Has he now? The rat.'
it was like watching the candles burn out on the Christmas tree. Blue uncertain
faltering buds of light out to sea on a starless night,
looked like false teeth,
The second was when a kind of beauty returned:
pallor and purity, one grain of rice.
in shock, her bloody lips wide open, vampiric, chapped.
The oxygen was still in her nose like a butterfly's proboscis.
like Danish pastry in the shape of a kite.
They secured the finished shape with 'Magic' invisible Sellotape.
It was a procedure and a rhythmic ritual.
the terrible art on the walls.
I remember being surprised the dead didn't look peaceful.
puffing away in pyjamas and dressing gowns.
And I remember
were gone, blank as a bar of chocolate,
Excerpted from "How Snow Falls"
Copyright © 2010 Craig Raine.
Excerpted by permission of Atlantic Books Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
How Snow Falls,
I Remember My Mother Dying,
La Médica Harkevitch,
Three Poems after Willem Van Toorn,
Words Upon the Window Pane,
A Festive Poem for Albie Marber,
51 Ways to Lose a Balloon,
Those No-Doubt-About-It Infidelity Blues,
Davos Documentary B&W,
L. F. Rosen: Three Poems,
Marcel's Fancy-Dress Party,
For Pat Kavanagh,
On the Slopes,
A la recherche du temps perdu,