2nd, Open Category 2007 - Alex Porter


Still Life

One night I asked him again.
He had the bed at the window,
I was over by the wall.
Between us a reading lamp discharged
a mustard light that we camped in
each and every night until sleep
pulled us down and away.

That night - and only once - his
sandbagged defences gave.
He sat up and held out an open hand
as if preparing to salute -
'Got me here' he said, pointing to the
fleshy mound beneath the root
of his thumb. Nothing more.
He lay back down and read.

I closed my eyes -
tried to imagine the screams and blood,
the whining shells; his comrades
scrambling through the sucking mud.
But I only got comic strip carnage -
speech-bubble zeppelins floating above
a scene with no real damage.

One night, ignoring orders, Grandad left
the line for good and faded into the fog.
I kept the light on just in case.
For months I held him as a still life -
a finger absently poised at his lips
preparing to turn the page; glasses at a tilt;
lamplight staining his face.