Long long ago
when everything I was told was believable
and the little I knew was less limited than now,
I stretched belly down on the grass beside a pond
and to the far bank launched a child’s armada.
A broken fortress of twigs,
the paper-tissue sails of galleons,
the waterlogged branches of submarines –
all came to ruin and were on flame
in that dusk-red pond.
And you, mother, stood behind me,
impatient to be going,
old at twenty-three, alone,
thin overcoat flapping.
How closely the past shadows us.
In a hospital a mile or so from that pond
I kneel beside your bed and, closing my eyes,
reach out across forty years to touch once more
that pond’s cool surface,
and it is your cool skin I’m touching;
for as on a pond a child’s paper boat
was blown out of reach
by the smallest gust of wind,
so too have you been blown out of reach
by the smallest whisper of death,
and a childhood memory is sharpened,
and the heart burns as that armada burnt,
long, long ago.
Copyright: from Armada (Flamingo (HarperCollins), 1996), copyright © Brian Patten 1996, used by permission of the author.
About The Armada
A hospital in which Mum was dying was very close to a park she used to take me to as a kid, and there's a big boating lake in the park. A poem called 'Armada':