A Matter of Timing by Lauris Dorothy Edmond
Late Song

It's a still morning, quiet and cloudy
the kind of grey day I like best;
they'll be here soon, the little kids first,
creeping up to try and frighten me,
then the tall young men, the slim boy
with the marvellous smile, the dark girl
subtle and secret; and the others,
the parents, my children, my friends —
and I think: these truly are my weather
my grey mornings and my rain at night,
my sparkling afternoons and my birdcall at daylight;
they are my game of hide and seek, my song
that flies from a high window. They are
my dragonflies dancing on silver water.
Without them I cannot move forward, I am
a broken signpost, a train fetched up on
a small siding, a dry voice buzzing in the ears;
for they are also my blunders
and my forgiveness for blundering,
my road to the stars and my seagrass chair
in the sun. They fly where I cannot follow
and I — I am their branch, their tree.
My song is of the generations, it echoes
the old dialogue of the years; it is the tribal
chorus that no one may sing alone.


I do not ask for youth, nor for delay
in the rising of time's irreversible river
that takes the jewelled arc of the waterfall
in which I glimpse, minute by glinting minute,
all that I have and all I am always losing
as sunlight lights each drop fast, fast falling.

I do not dream that you, young again,
might come to me darkly in love's green darkness
where the dust of the bracken spices the air
moss, crushed, gives out an astringent sweetness
and water holds our reflections
motionless, as if for ever.

It is enough now to come into a room
and find the kindness we have for each other
— calling it love — in eyes that are shrewd
but trustful still, face chastened by years
of careful judgement; to sit in the afternoons
in mild conversation, without nostalgia.

But when you leave me, with your jauntiness
sinewed by resolution more than strength
— suddenly then I love you with a quick
intensity, remembering that water,
however luminous and grand, falls fast
and only once to the dark pool below.

I want to tell you about time, how strangely
it behaves when you haven't got much of it left:
after 60 say, or 70, when you'd think it would

find itself squeezed so hard that like melting
ice it would surely begin to shrink, each day
looking smaller and smaller - well, it's not so.

The rules change, a single hour can grow huge
and quiet, full of reflections like an old river,
its slow-turning eddies and whirls showing you

every face of your life in a fluid design -
your children for instance, how you see them
deepened and changed, not merely by age, but by

time itself, its wide and luminous eye; and you
realise at last that your every gift to them - love,
your very life, should they need it - will not

and cannot come back; it wasn't a gift at all
but a borrowing, a baton for them to pass on in
their turn. Look, there they are in this

shimmering distance, rushing through their kind
of time, moving faster than you yet not catching up.
You're alone. And slowly you begin to discern

the queer outline of what's to come: the bend in
the river beyond which, moving steadily, head up
(you hope), you will simply vanish from sight.

There, she is there. She moves in the cold September morning
it's hours yet till dawn but she knows neither light nor dark
nor scarcely where she is. A light, a door, stone steps. She walks

straight up them, eyes ahead; her body rigid as she jerks
forward towards the door, the handle, and suddenly the man
behind the desk. He looks up, his breath stops

he sees her tragic bright eyes, he sees the blood, and
how she holds those small white-knuckled hands; he watches
her terrible face. He knows without asking, but he asks.

They are locked already into an unspeakable knowledge,
only yesterday she was here, distraught and pleading,
it was his chance for brilliance — or at least for goodness —

and he missed it. He has become her jailer now, who
could have been her saviour. He wholly understands,
and it is too late. No one else will ever come to him and say

'Help me, take me, please, before I do this thing . . .'
He will be haunted now for ever by his trial, deceptive
as it was, and he found wanting. No one will accuse him

and he can never be forgiven. His uniform rustles slightly
as he rises, his single offer a cup of institution coffee,
potion for the damned. 'Your jacket's all bloody, take it off.'

Oh cry for the breaking day, the sleeping pillows shocked
by phone calls, messages, alarms, weep now and every morning
for the Janus faces, back to back, of guilt and innocence.

— The End —