Three poems by Gaia Holmes


Sometimes it makes him angry, this dying,
and I keep doing things wrong,
forget to soften the stars with almond milk
before I bring them to his bedside on a saucer,
buy the wrong kind of green tea,
the wrong kind of holy water
from the village shop.

He says there are things that need darning
but I end up darning the wrong holes
so there is less light
and it’s hard to read the instructions.

I have to sign lots of papers now
in order to be a proper daughter
and I keep writing my name backwards.
Forgodsake, he says, still strong enough
to make the caravan shake,
to make the clock fall off the wall,
to scare the fat white cats
from where they lay
scorching their fur on the gas fire.

And I know that I’ve lost
my angel’s status
but I’m trying.
I’ve knackered my back
from trying to shift the moon,
angling it so it shines in to his room.
I’ve worn out my songs
from trying to teach the seabirds
to sing something sweet.
I’ve used up my prayers
from trying to persuade
the wind to lie down
and give us some peace.

He asks me if the miracles
he ordered from America
have arrived yet
and I have to tell him, no.
The island whimpers
and trembles beneath us.
There will be bruises
in the morning

and I keep doing things wrong,
rub bloodroot into his skin
deosil instead of widdershins
then drop the bottle,
burn sinkholes in the carpet.
Forgodsake, he says.

I sit at his bedside sucking my knuckles
until he slips in to fevered sleep
then I jog barefoot around the mill
in the frost to remind myself
that sometimes I need
to suffer.

The Lord’s Prayer

This morning
the mist won’t lift
to let the daylight in
and you are
definitely dying.
The rattling
behind your ribs
has stopped.
I hold a mirror
to your mouth
and your breath
makes no ghosts.

I have no manual
for dying
so I do what I think
you’re supposed to do
in this situation.
I light the stub
of last night’s candle,
utter something holy
and stand
at your bedside
with the unfamiliar taste
of the Lord’s Prayer
clinging to my lips.

Definitely not dead,
you open your eyes
and say,
‘What’s that bloody rubbish
you’re muttering?’

Playing Alive

It’s a kind of game they play,
him and the nurses
even though they all know
it’s a matter of days.
They pretend he might be alright,
lay his freshly washed running socks
across his trainers on a chair
in case he feels like
taking a jog through the mizzle
down the hospital drive
in the middle of the night.
They hang his coat, ready to go,
on the back of the door.
They turn on the radio
for the weather
and the news at ten
and he pretends he still cares
about the density of rain
and the force of the wind,
about the world
beyond his body.
They read him the menu,
help him tick a box
then bring him soup
even though he cannot eat,
has not eaten for days.
He likes to inhale its flavours
as it steams in the shallow bowl
on his bed tray.
He likes to imagine
he is hungry and closer to life.
In sleep he gobbles down the air,
dreams of Lapsang Souchong tea
and mashed potato,
goes for a ten-mile run
across the tops of the waves
from the Kirkwall corn slip,
to the beach at Elwick Bay.

Gaia Holmes is a poet and tutor in creative writing. She has previously made a living as a busker, a cleaner, a gallery attendant, an oral historian and a lollypop lady. In 2017, she was awarded a Hawthornden Fellowship and shortlisted for a Pushcart Prize, and her poem ‘Guests’ won the Bare Fiction Prize 2016 for poetry. Her three full length poetry collections published by Comma Press are Dr James Graham’s Celestial Bed 2006, Lifting the Piano with One Hand, 2013 and Where The Road Runs Out, 2018, as well as Tales from the Tachograph, a collaborative work with Winston Plowes (Calder Valley Poetry, 2017). Her poems have appeared in various anthologies including Milestones, I Belong Here, The Book of Love and Loss and Seductive Harmonies. She lives in Halifax.