Milk and Cookies

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Milk with cookies is a personality. The milk – hot, cold, or sugared – and the choice of biscuits – are personal and meaningful choices. How soggy you like the cookies, the number of times you dunk them in the milk – these are little signs that make us. 

Back at home, everyone in my family had a different method. 

Mother liked sugary milk, and ate two biscuits at a time, dipping them all the way in. Dey, my young sister, only had salty biscuits with tea. And aunt Ella preferred plain milk with a single, decadent chocolate cookie. They’d eat these at their own times, in their personal favourite corners –  nudged on a chair late at night under the white tube-light, curled up on the swing when lonely, hunched before the television in the afternoon. 

You made milk and cookies something people did together. 

One summer, as we were crouched on the teapoy doing math sums, you brought in biscuits with two glasses of milk and put them between us, no questions asked. And here we are, years later on movie night, hands sticky with softened biscuit flour and mouths covered in cream-staches.  

This is simple, and quite nice. 

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Death, A To Do List

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No one talks about the meticulous chores that follow death, the seemingly vestigial arrangements that one must make without complaint, and without recollecting memories. How after one’s loved ones are gone, buried or burnt and prayed for, one must unsubscribe to the list of magazines and newsletters that keep making their way in through the letterbox. 

Someone must make calls or write letters to close family, and without losing their composure recite the date and time of the funeral. Those around you suddenly seem to look older than their age, wrinkled, sleep-deprived, and soap-smelling. An anonymous guest finds their feet in your kitchen and makes everyone tea, bereavers must eat. 

Often, the place where they once lived, laughed, moved with life in, comes to be settled with dust before someone remembers to clean and mop, contact a broker and sell the property. Things need to be given away, medical bills filed, insurances claimed and bank accounts closed. A police officer might visit to create a certificate of passing. An appropriate photograph is added to the mantlepiece, not one where they look too old, or too young, just right. What do you do with their coin collections and unopened box of assortment biscuits?    

Between the questions, the taxes, the law and the prayers, sometimes you forget that they are, after all, dead. Still made of skin and bones, but lesser in ways you cannot explain, even though all that is missing is breath. O2, Only Oxygen. It’s almost as if they left behind their papers and their home, unorganised and in need of caring, so that you can grieve without pain, live each day more easily than the last, and slowly heal yourself as you fall asleep tired and spent by dinnertime.  

Postcode

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I wrote a lifetime of letters to you
in days of sickness and in health 

When the soup wasn’t salty enough,
and when little Rob was blue, red and other colours 

I invited you to my sister’s wedding
bought flowers, and sent grieving notes on your mother’s death

Wrote my food-in-a-jar recipes
on old postcards,
and stacked them by the fridge 

Papermessages like papyrus breaths
lay piled atop each other, smudged somewhere

The address on the postcards
had a missing house number,
and a postcode few numbers less.

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Sailors

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Sailors left behind lockets for their loved ones before they set sail. Mine was a platinum oval that opened into two halves. The small pictures inside had us looking opposite ways. 

I would touch it compulsively, like the fortune rock my mother held in her palms when she needed comforting. Washing dishes over the sink, walking through the market, smelling roses on the way back home. I dreamt dreams in whale sounds. 

Not knowing where you were going was confusing. I did not know how to think of you – was it day where you were, or was the light just setting? Was the ocean the blue of your eyes, had you planned a date of return?

Yet I never visited the dock, I had never lingered there like other families, waiting. I was happy to not picture the place where our distance turned real. Somewhere the land ended and there was only sea, for miles and miles and thousands of uncountable nautical distances, until there was land again. And then there, another lover, holding a pendant between their small fingers, looking at the moon that makes the waves in the water.

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You were here

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My beret was damp with rainwater. Something about the rain today makes it sharp, prickly against my skin, like shards of glass. An angry lover has thrown a bouquet of pink roses on the floor, all its thorns falling down in a melody. I did not think of the umbrella in my bag walking from the driveway to the door. I place my hat in a watery choice on the coffee table. The eyes in the oil-painting we bought for our hall look untrusting. They seem to be looking away, outside, at the ice plants that smile like death.

I turn right, and walk upstairs. The sound of your music plays with my footsteps. I picture your hands moving like liquid from one key to the next. The pauses are filled, like flowers blooming in slow motion. On the podium, I pause to brush my fingers on the window. The raindrops race and I quicken my step as your song grows louder. The attic’s green door is open, and your ghost sits on a stool by the piano. Your grey eyes turn to me, full of tears that refuse to cry, as if all the rain in the sky was here, in this grey room, between us, and if I touched you, it will all disappear.

I pull a chair and sit down opposite, fold my hands on the lid and place my chin on my arms as I listen to you stop at a crescendo, and then softly, play on, a song of life after love. I have left no wet footprints on the stairway, the house is cold like before. Nothing can tell if I was here, and if for a while, you were too.

 

#MarchMosaic

Old-School

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I wish we lived in an age of letters and radios and playing in the parks in the evening. An age of passing smiles to strangers and reading poetry out loud to share your favourite lines. Having to go out to buy flowers and fresh beans for tonight’s dinner.

But in the pre-computer age, how do you tell someone you miss them when they are miles away on their birthday? Shall I write you an e-mail at midnight, and pretend to have loved you in letters? Let technology save us sometimes when I want to show you the colours of dusk in my sky

 

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Breakfast Smoothie

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You still have a moustache of chocolate foam above your lips

So we fumble a little at the door

Before I peck your cheek in a goodbye kiss.

 

I rush to the balcony to look at you again

You hadn’t turned to the mirror in the elevator

It’s five past nine, and you are running late.

 

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The Shape of Snow

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You squint your eyes and look outside the window, trying to discern if it’s snowing against the bedsheet white sky, or whether all of this is a passing illusion and you still haven’t quite woken up.

You look down at the swatches of grass and the cement of the roads for a sign that will give it away, for settling clouds,

but snow falls like whispers, kisses from a secret lover, full apples dropped from a tree that smash against the earth and turn unrecognisable the next second,

it’s already being pinned under walking boots and seeping into the fine geometric lines on the pavement,

Look.

 

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Lives

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In some lives, you are slow, as you watch the watercolour spill softly across the grass. Turning from blue to white, then meeting pink and red pools and quickly quilled into flowers.

On other days, hurrying, a paraphernalia about to turn into a painting waits spread across the living room floor. You leave violet fingerprints on the knob as you leave home.

 

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