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An Obituary

Simon Armitage

Stealing from his mother’s house,

Edward came across a hand-written note

tucked away in a scallop-shell purse, which seemed at first

to be some sort of letter or short story, but here’s what it said:


“As a child, Edward liked to climb trees in the plantation

and make dams in the stream at the foot of the garden,

and once carved a bookmark from a piece of wood.

But right from the very beginning there was an absence in Edward’s life,

a craving emptiness which grew like the black pit of a dilating eye.

Where that void came from neither the teachers nor doctors could say,

except that it was there from the very start,

curled up beside him in his crib, hiding in the grip of his fist,

drinking from the water vapour in his breath.

Nothing could suture that dark, famished wound.

Board games and soft toys, space-hoppers and bikes –

the more it was given the deeper and wider it grew.

All sweetness was rancid on Edward’s tongue.

All handshakes were tentacles, all compliments were veiled threats,

all statements and assessments were worthless confessions

obtained under torture, all care-plans were Byzantine conspiracies of evil intent.

Awake and asleep Edward stalked the battlements alone,

meeting the emissaries of peace with the point of a bayonet,

beading friendship in the crosshairs of suspicion,

scanning the open plane from the watchtower

so as to ride out and beat until dead the first flames of tenderness

or the sparks of love. He is survived by his mother, Eleanor,

from whom he took everything, but who would give it all again

just to let him scream his agonies into her face

or pound his fury into her breast one final time. He left no note.”

Edward opened the wardrobe, which was empty

except for the greatcoat, which slumped towards him

then engulfed him as he hauled it from the rail.

The huge, overburdening coat with its stiff, turf-like cloth,

and the heavy legs of its sleeves, and the triceratops collar

and the mineshaft pockets and the drunken punches of its flailing cuffs.

Through the neat bullet hole in the back, daylight looked distant and pinched,

like the world through a dusty telescope held back-to-front to the eye.


And there Edward wept, crouched in the foxhole,

huddled in a ball under the greatcoat, draped in the flag.


From The Rialto No 67 (Summer 2009)