You might forget the exact sound of her voice
or how her face looked when sleeping.
You might forget the sound of her quiet weeping
curled into the shape of a half moon,
when smaller than her self, she seemed already to be leaving
before she left, when the blossom was on the trees
and the sun was out, and all seemed good in the world.
I held her hand and sang a song from when I was a girl –
Heel y’ho boys, let her go boys –
and when I stopped singing she had slipped away,
already a slip of a girl again, skipping off,
her heart light, her face almost smiling.
And what I didn’t know or couldn’t say then
was that she hadn’t really gone.
The dead don’t go till you do, loved ones.
The dead are still here holding our hands.
from Darling: new and selected poems (Tarset: Bloodaxe Books, 2007)
Jackie Kay is never an aloof artist: she’s down among the difficulties with us, working things out as she writes. In the last few years she’s been writing prose and poems about her Nigerian inheritance through her father; her Scottish birth mother; her beloved adopted parents who gave her a happy, Communist childhood in Glasgow. Her humorous monologues in the character of a Scottish cartoon character can reduce an audience to tears of laughter. Love is often her theme, and ‘authenticity, allegiance, origins and memory’ as Ruth Padel comments; the pain and pleasures of loving women, of being a friend – she’s very good on friendship, as in this poem about the writer Julia Darling – of being a mother and a daughter.
This poem is not specific to Scotland: it’s a poem that speaks directly to many people and I wanted to share it with you because I feel sure that you, in turn, will want to share it. It recognises the truth Auden so memorably explored in ‘Musée des Beaux Arts’, that the world goes on even while someone is dropping down into death, and out of this pained recognition, something beautiful can be created.
Find out more about Jackie Kay here:
and hear her read here:
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