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Empires of Mind

December 2021, no. 438

Empires of Mind

December 2021, no. 438

Beside the fountain’s troupe of sun-bleached rubber ducks,
in the gardens, under a shade sail,
my father is crying about Winston Churchill.
Midway through a lunch of cremated schnitzel
spoon-fed by the carer with the port-wine stain
my father is crying about Winston Churchill.

In the night he cries out for Winston Churchill.
During his morning bath he cries for Winston Churchill.
When the nurse does up his buttons he will not stop his weeping.
When the therapist wheels him to Tuesday piano
my father ignores the Mozart and cries for Winston Churchill.

He cries not like a child seeking absolution,
not like the mourner or the mourned, but free and unconstrained
as one who has spent a long time denying an urge
and is suddenly giddy and incontinent in his liberation.

The cleaners are unmoved. The woman
who brings his hourly cup of pills is bright as a firework
and goes about her round with the hardness
of one who has heard all the crying in the world
and finds in that reservoir nothing more disturbing
than a tap’s dripping drumbeat in a sink.

But the night supervisor is frightened
in the early hours when the halls ping
with the sharp beep of motion sensors and my father’s crying.
His longing for silence is fierce and keen
as a pregnant woman’s craving for salt and fried chicken,
as my father’s crying for Winston Churchill.

And the women in their beds call for it to stop like a Greek chorus
croaking like bullfrogs each to each in the dark –
unsettled, loud, insatiable – the unutterable fear
rippling through them like a herd of horses
apprehending the tremor of thunder
on a horizon they cannot see but feel.

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