The Spirit Level
In this life
we walk on the roof of hell
and view the flowers
“Next Wednesday—we’ll phone the results to you between 4 and 5. Do you understand?”
After the biopsy, sweet coffee in a styroform cup. Driving home the familiar sunny hills are restless now with my unease. Five days to go. Five days to finish the summer house. Wednesday dawns fine.
Coiling and drifting
from a new-lit fire
Just enough worn old bricks to build the steps. I watch myself loading the barrow with slow deliberation. Cement, buckets, the clatter of this and that. And the long bright spirit level. The mortar mix—not too stiff, not too sloppy. This trowelling of mortar is balm to the spirit. I lay the level across the finished slabs. The spirit bubble sits dead centre, between its two hair lines. How could it be otherwise? it says.
She has set out our lunch with care. Two polished glasses filled with sunlight; two white napkins rather unnerving. 3 o'clock. I potter at my desk. Outside, she listens to a neighbour who has been touched by Jesus. The dark green phone waits, silent in its cradle and unbelievable when it rings.
So sorry. It’s cancer—
I go wring out the washing
hang it out to dry
Back to the summer house, trying not to disturb the new steps. Lock the door. Listen to the wind.
From west to east we flee together. To where the sun rises up from the sea instead of sinking into it. To where the world shrinks to a thin line between sky and fen. At Southwold, pints of Adnam’s “Broadside” bitter. A jar of white honey from the Walberswick hives. Matins at Ely; evensong at Norwich.
last year’s nest
where a saint once stood
Home for more tests. The radiology unit has an air of carnival. What shall we play for you?
of a Brandenburg Concerto
Judgement Day, at 11.30am. Yama, the bug-eyed Lord of Death, turns out to be a breezy fellow, an old school tie bright against his white coat. Obsequies seriously postponed. They can “help me live” at least until the end of the decade. I could even end up dying of something better. We celebrate at the Owl & Pussycat Tea-room. Sipping Earl Grey, I number the hairs of my head.
Returning home, we find visitors—
Into the sadness
a pair of mating ducks
alighting on our pond
Dedicated to fellow haijin John Crook, who died of cancer 16 April 2001.