Irma Wood – 1908 : 2003*
Here, at another table, by another window,
leaning into the lee-side of my own half-century-plus,
I’m looking out over autumn fields, heavy with the news.
Not so much grief or loss for the motif is gold and red –
riches, even in the curl and fall of lives that burned up to the last.
But some memories are like bindweed
and they grow green around the sinews of time…
Her birthday supper. Late summer, just like now. Twilight.
The fragrance, sweet and sad, of burning leaves. The tiny goblin song
from beechwood embers glowing in the black-iron range.
The schoolday’s done. Here, the boarders, round the kitchen table,
knees on chairs, fists bunched under chins,
observing her like naturalists. Candlelight – just the one –
its image doubled in her glasses. Our unthinking love
ticking like a clock that knows nothing of the moments that drive it.
“Irma, how old are you now?” I ask out of nowhere.
(I have no notion: beyond my sprig of years, from down here
the trees grow high and wide, topless and secret.)
“I’m 50”, she announces. “Half a century today”.
I am appalled: so close, so very close to death.
With the snuffing of that candle, shadows will gather in this room,
in all the rooms, as they have so often in the dreams I dread.
We are so fragile. All songs end. Love is paper.
Suddenly but silently I weep
and she leans forward and reads the tears, each one,
and she rises and holds me into her warmth and its good darkness.
*John Wood’s wife Irma – adored materfamilias of the New Sherwood boarders – died in her sleep in 2003 at the age of 95.
Irma and John Wood in retirement in New Zealand.