Look, No Mirror

In a corner of our garage
lurks his medicine cabinet
I thought would come in handy.
It smells as strong as it ever did
of his potions and lotions,
and mostly of his electric after-shave.

His desk had a hook
which carried the wire from the plug
to his shaver. Each morning before work
he’d fish the Remington out of a drawer,
plug in, and then lean back
to a contemplative buzz.
He did it all by feel.
To get the sideburns
he’d place an index finger across,
then shave up to it, like a ballerina
tucking a flower over the ear.

I never saw him look in a mirror.

Pots and Pans

His territorial sense grew sharper
as his sight blurred,
especially in the kitchen:
‘Where have they put the bloody sugar?
Don’t they know I can’t see.’
He took up cookery when mother died,
puffing Hamlet or Manikin
through thick and thin
to what he called wallpaper music,
monotonous classical,
speakers in every room.
Dinner-guests had to ignore
the ash-log centred on the mousse,
the slug in a fold of lettuce,
and enjoy the washing-up afterwards.
They came for the badinage;
the food would have to do.

From America I sent him
The Large-Type Cook Book.
His thank-you carped ‘not large enough.’
I reclaimed it when he died,
small-mindedly got my own back.

Listening in

He had a Talking Book.
One year the whole of War and Peace
followed him round the house.

He also had talking people,
readers paid to be toneless:
‘Why will they be expressive?
Actors manqués – so are most actors.
Let the words do the work.’

Mother was an expert Wife to Mr Reeves.
She read the Times letters after lunch
every day, without taking in a word –
his window on the world:
he liked to keep in touch, at second hand,
and was a fan of the first-cuckoo-of-the-year type.

He started an interminable correspondence
about Proust’s madeleines – ‘how could
his imagination have been fed
by such dull grub?’ – and was sent recipes
and even a box of madeleine-like biscuits.

Milton was too ambitious, he said.
He liked his high art to keep a low profile.
Much of his day-labour was spent
chiding ambition. In the dark hours
he’d nod off in his armchair
and wake to the ticking of a run-out LP,
then struggle upstairs
to write a lyric in thick felt-tip.

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