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“I tell her don’t be silly of course she’s not dead”

Monday, 30 September, 2013

Born in Burton upon Trent, Jean Sprackland studied English and Philosophy at the University of Kent and now teaches Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University. It Occurs to My Mother that She Might Be Dead is taken from “Sleeping Keys,” her most recent collection. It’s filled with poems “that speak of the paralysis and bewilderment of knowing something is over, and of the strangely significant, almost votive nature of the things that are left behind.”

It Occurs to My Mother that She Might Be Dead

She’s been stripping beds, gathering sheets for the wash,
a thing she’s done each week since she was fifteen —
first during her mother’s illness
then in all the houses of her married life —
grasping the sheets and heaping them on the landing,
stirring the air with crumbs and flakes of dust.

I tell her don’t be silly of course she’s not dead
and she says But how would I know?
I suggest she pinch herself, which I’m sure will settle it,
But she says That’s for dreaming, not dead
I don’t think there a test for dead. And turns
And goes on stacking dishes in the sink.

That must have been forty years ago. Now I wonder
whether my mother is still there, somewhere
asking the same question, How would I know?
I remember the glint in her voice as she said it,
the icy terror that seized me. And now
I stand with my arms full of sheets, and suppose I’m alive.

Note: National Poetry Day in the UK falls every year on the first Thursday of October, which happens to be 3 October this year. The 2013 theme is “Water, water everywhere.”


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