Michael Lee Rattigan, Overtaken

I

A halo of hair. A blanket on a chair,
barricade of chatter –
bad news refusing to dissolve
on the tongue.

The overwhelming dread of fear,
struggling to hold the thread of a thought.

Scent of blood-stained air, a python-clot
collapsing, darkly meeting white.

To stand in another’s reality
while remaining in one’s own.

A handkerchief twisted around fingers,
the climb toward a future that cannot be seen.
Not goodbye.

Shaking hands on the possibility
of trust, the hope of uncertainty.

Nearly there at dawn, overtaken.
Hearing the train’s long whistle.

A frown wiped from his face, life
on the other side of a window.

II

A dribble of saliva from the mouth,
meticulously recorded.

The body’s tenderness never left alone.
The answer no larger than a grain of barley.

Nothing more than a shrug of shoulders,
a monosyllabic moo.

A stethoscope’s silver silence
in the warm lamp of evening,
eyes closed, eyebrows raised –
the look of working out how to be dead.

A head movement for yes…
Balling a scrap of paper into a pocket,
a toothbrush discarded,
a voice breaking.

The trap of the mind slowly opening,
the heart beating.

Correcting one’s tense –
first step into loss.

III

Across the counterpane,
spring flowers along the river.

The difficulty of concentrating
on anything.

A finger moving to lips
withholds the storm.

In the place of tears,
notes that name death
in a hand wide as the sky.

A dream that takes us to the edge
of danger as time runs out –
diving bell below thought.

To notice misdirection, tiptoe
towards a tipping point
awaiting an outcome –
a garden’s scarlet bloom.

A burst that breaks the heart.
The tongue clicks over again. Listen!

IV

Her smile spreading like a soft bruise,
handprints in clay, the sundress
of a cushion cover. Moving the fabric

into place in real time – a reaching
around of arms, a half-full cup
overflowing.

The bony prominence of ankle, knee,
wrist and elbow. A lesson in fragility.

A struggle to steady the voice,
not knowing what to say.

A tenacity of life, curious
as the language of frogs,
their gift, greenly woven.

Morning’s final day,
the arrival of laughter
changing by the moment –
hand over hand, a stillness.

Mist rolling up from the river.

Michael Lee Rattigan is a poet and translator based in Caterham, England. His most recent collection, Hiraeth, was published alongside its French translation in 2016 by Black Herald Press.

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