A poem by Bill Greenwell

One afternoon

for Chris

One afternoon
he actually died during one of his anecdotes, one which he’d
started in one village, and had persisted in so that
by the time they’d reached the next one
he was still going, having taken a tangent at some crossroads
and kept on with the tale, so that it had begun to defy
clausal analysis as well as logic, but the thing was that
although dead, he carried on explaining to her
(not without kindness) what the point of the point was
he was making, and how the context in which he was placing
the context was essential to how
what he intended to say would make sense, while accepting
in a roundabout sort of way that he (and they)
were off the beaten track, off the ordnance survey map
of his conversation (1:1250), and in the wrong village altogether,
but there it was, he’d died and kept on going, had had
a stroke or some such, his heart had packed up
and folded its ventricles too, but he
kept talking, gaseous and andante, the words spinning
out through his lips like ectoplasm, the motor of the brain
turning over and over, rather like (it occurred
to her) those weird stories of guillotine victims who gave
every sign of life, even when head and body
had parted company, not voluntarily, true, but
you get the drift.

What could she do but follow him (well not
follow exactly, she’d been unable to do that since the third
signpost along the way, she’d given up even
trying to join in or to nod – other than off – or
quite frankly to hear him as anything other than an arbitrary
string of vowels and consonants, a rhythmic burden
that ran under her murderous thoughts) as he persisted
in approaching the point?

She drove to a station, took a fast train
to somewhere exotic. The problem was, as the journey
unwound her, she could hear, somewhere,
it might have been the air conditioning, she
couldn’t tell, she could hear this drone, this
prattle, an off-white noise.
Bill Greenwell is the Open University in the North’s Arts Staff Tutor. His fourth collection Ringers is published by Cinnamon and he writes a weekly satirical poem on www.theweeklypoem.com