My sister once asked me why old people shrink.
I told her it's the combined weight of years lived
And the staring assumptions of the young
If they make it through life without cancer
Then this is their future.
If they're lucky.
Their feet shuffling tracks in the same carpet.
Everything taking longer than it should.
Photo albums as proof of the life lived,
Safeguarding memories from the ravaging storm
Of an imperfect mind.
I told my sister,
"I've been an addict,
And that's just in the spare time I had by 32.
It's scrubbed the hair from my brow,
Imagine what our Grandmother has been.
The sights she's seen,
The weight of the memory
Of meeting our Grandfather.
That first date,
When her habit of eating fruit
Then throwing the seeds over her shoulder so trees grew in her footsteps
Turned Grandad’s car
Into a potential shrubbery.
The weight of waving him off to war,
Bringing our mother into the world,
How she was so small
They were sure she would die
Until they lay her by the radiator
And come morning,
She opened her eyes.
Bringing up a boy and a girl in a strangers’ country,
But marking out her territory nonetheless,
Like how she'll speak French when you're in her home
And follow it up with a translation
So you learn her mother tongue just like she learned yours;
"Tu veux un tas du te?
Cup of tea?"
How she'll make a toast with a
"Sante! Regarde les yeux,"
In the old Swiss tradition
Like if we're drinking to celebrate
Our eyes must meet with the clink of the glass
So we know we are present
In this moment together,
And our Grandmother loves letters.
Letters sent from the hungry maw of wartime France,
Grandad telling her he wriggled out of the devourers teeth.
Letters from my mother containing cassettes
Of her grandson’s infant burbling;
His best attempts at learning the language of this land
Like she did.
Letters from Switzerland,
Family so far flung
They trace the globe's circumference
Like a satellite,
And these days
Her mailbox claps
With the sound of falling phone bills,
Adverts for an internet she doesn't use.
So I write her
....nowhere near often enough,
I write her.
Arthritis has stopped her pen hand
So I'll never hear back in kind,
But my mother tells me of how the years drift away
And wrinkled skin smooths
When envelope strikes welcome matt
And once again, she is weightless.
She is young and strong and fearless,
She is on the cusp of womanhood,
She is freshly in love with a soldier,
She is one of a multitude of eyes
That met the War Machines grey gaze
She is a teacher.
She is a newlywed
She is a mother,
She has cast her hopes and prayers over her shoulder
So that one day she will turn
And see redwoods
A forest for her footsteps,
A wild wood
For the way she came.
Now she carries those trees
In a photo album
Which is always by her side.
And she'll take pride
In guiding you
Through her favourite clearings and copses,
Forcing you to realise
She is so much more
Than the frail human framework you see before you.
Sometimes I'll stop in the middle of my shows
And strike a pose.
You'll notice a flash from the crowd,
The click of a camera shutter.
And somewhere, my grandmother
"See? Look at what the smallest of my seeds grew up to be"