A woman in a documentary
is frozen in my mind. She stands
behind an asylum window
and whispers in a foreign language.
The subtitle below her
reads, “Please let me out of here.”
She is framed by the subtitle;
framed by the edit
of her portrayal.
Finally, she is framed
by the asylum itself.
“Please let me out of here,” she says.
On that last day at my Grandmother’s
house, after we had taken down
her paintings and placed all of her
possessions into boxes, I opened
a door in the hall. I had always
thought this was a small cupboard.
But it wasn’t. Instead, the door
revealed a tiny spiral flight
of stairs. And it was up
these stairs that I climbed.
The spiral staircase led to a loft,
and in the corner of the room was
a photograph of my Grandmother
as a young girl. And she was dancing,
and yes, she was laughing.
My brother is smoother and wiser
than I am; he is free whereas I am
a refugee. Lidded under the drug,
I return to this motel, arriving in a room
still sculpted by our scattered clothes,
our forgotten words. Every day
I watch my brother shave; he cuts
himself in a different place every day,
giving blood to those who take fame
to heart and live in shadow. My brother
smokes; I stare. Neither one of us eats
at the same time. One simply watches
the other; watches how the other chews
and watches how the other swallows.
We run outside, past the pickpockets
pissing in the rain, from the eavesdroppers
dripping in the snow. On the streets
with the fractured people, we listen
to the whisperers steal an experience,
a storyline. Drugged out in transit,
their claims are wild and sprawling.
We have no reason to believe them;
we laugh hard at their pretension.
Offstage, I falter. I stumble, blindfolded,
to the cathedral where I hold the hands
of a dying man. (The puppeteer
is laughing.) In absentia, my brother
bathes in oils and leaves. So early,
my brother, so soon. We kiss like flowers;
a gentle silence amongst thieves.
Tracing the dark paths
where your cool tongue
had crawled, I stumbled.
Your tongue teased me
like a warm feather, softly;
it teased me for years.
Like an obedient dog,
I waited. It was a strange
journey and no-one moved
much. But I was always
watching and I was
Once, I saw a glimpse
of your tongue in the mouth
of a man who spoke
like Andy Kaufman;
amongst the shadows
of diagonal trees, we kissed.
Then one day I found
your tongue, found it
all of a sudden,
and it whispered
to me softly, “Soon,
soon we will be ghosts.”
One day my Grandmother looked out
of her window and saw the local
butcher give a dog a piece of meat.
Cars were driving by and the dog
was becoming more and more excited.
Too excited. My Grandmother took
one look at this scene outside
then turned to me and said, “That
poor dog will die this afternoon…”
And by evening, the dog was gone.
And Granny knew Death better
than most. Vague references
were made to telegrams; quiet tears
were shed on Remembrance Day.
There were no other clues.
Michael McGill is an Edinburgh poet who has recently had work published in Obsessed with Pipework, The High Window, Northwords Now, The Transnational, New Walk and HQ Magazine.