Denise Levertov

24 October 1923 – 20 December 1997 / Ilford, Essex

The 90th Year

High in the jacaranda shines the gilded thread
of a small bird's curlicue of song-too high
for her to see or hear.
I've learned
not to say, these last years,
‘O, look!-O, listen, Mother!'
as I used to.

(It was she
who taught me to look;
to name the flowers when I was still close to the ground,
my face level with theirs;
or to watch the sublime metamorphoses
unfold and unfold
over the walled back gardens of our street…

It had not been given her
to know the flesh as good in itself,
as the flesh of a fruit is good. To her
the human body has been a husk,
a shell in which souls were prisoned.
Yet, from within it, with how much gazing
her life has paid tribute to the world's body!
How tears of pleasure
would choke her, when a perfect voice,
deep or high, clove to its note unfaltering!

She has swept the crackling seedpods,
the litter of mauve blossoms, off the cement path,
tipped them into the rubbish bucket.
She's made her bed, washed up the breakfast dishes,
wiped the hotplate. I've taken the butter and milkjug
back to the fridge next door-but it's not my place,
visiting here, to usurp the tasks
that weave the day's pattern.
Now she is leaning forward in her chair,
by the lamp lit in the daylight,
rereading War and Peace.
When I look up
from her wellworn copy of The Divine Milieu,
which she wants me to read, I see her hand
loose on the black stem of the magnifying glass,
she is dozing.
‘I am so tired,' she has written me, ‘of appreciating
the gift of life.'
137 Total read