Being a squid in the early hours
He’s there – and I am suddenly aware,
as if a thread’s pulled taut in my chest
tugging me awake, of the dust-dark twilight
in which we sleep. He grins and clambers
in, dragging his dinosaur cushion with him
just in case, rolls over me to nestle in the valley
between our aging bodies, feet kicking down
beneath the sheet. He sleeps tight against
my back, even though it’s spring-time hot.
He’ll turn in the early hours, resting his head
against my waist, his feet on Philip’s side
like a footrest. Then later he’ll turn back, cling
like one of Harlow’s monkeys to its wire mother
to protect him from a dream. And in the early hours,
face inches from mine, he’ll grin and say:
‘Is it morning now? Can we play at being a squid?’
He’s simply there – and the hours ahead unspool.
Awake in the dust-dark twilight, unable to sleep
with his hot young heart beside me, for the love
I feel for this child, who isn’t mine, who isn’t
even my child’s child, I stare at the shadows.
Our great-nephew, three years old, has no inkling,
thank god, what his life brings to our old bones,
too late, the joy of the child we couldn’t have.
All he knows is that, at dawn, his uncle
will pretend to be the tickling squid and I
will save him. He’ll never know I never sleep
these nights, too stunned at how he saved us.
I burned the buildings down
blew up the bridges into town
and as I pushed you out the door
I felt a screw drop to the floor.
I lit the cannon’s fuse
even though I knew I’d lose
and when I pressed the starter switch
I could feel a rope unhitch.
I screamed into your face
with no thought of time or place
and as I fumbled for the map
I could feel the last thread snap.
And I knew the waves would take me
spin me out and maybe break me
but I couldn’t stop the blast –
I just clung on to the mast
hoping I’d drift home at last.
Yorkshirewoman Louise Wilford has had over 100 poems and short stories published in magazines including Acumen, OWP, The Stinging Fly, Dreamcatcher and Agenda, and has won or been shortlisted for several competitions, most recently the £750 Arts Quarterly Prize 2020 and the 2019 MereFest Poetry Prize. She is currently nearing the end of a Masters degree in Creative Writing with the Open University. She is a teacher, and is currently working on a fantasy novel for teenagers. She is a member of Kip Writers, a small group of novelists who began as colleagues at a private tutorial centre. You can find her blog at https://louviewsnewscues.blogspot.com/ and find her on Twitter @LouiseWilford.