He fell in front of a bus that couldn’t stop in time.
Lager-numb, he didn’t know where he was and woke in hospital,
his mind splintered by thirteen tonnes of metal
and soon was riddled with dementia, and more lost than ever.
Placed in a nursing home of tatty repute,
where he occupied the same corner
of the same lounge in the same slippers,
and took daily delivery of a Polish newspaper
bearing foggy snaps of the Pope and Hitler.
The felt of his slippers was shiny.
His trousers were shiny too, and baggy
around his hard-travelled knees.
If you smiled at him he would raise his hand
in a salute-wave that became his signature.
I sat on the arm of his chair
and read the Polish newspaper with him.
He could say Hello and Paper, and he could wave.
He could smile and point.
He did all these things with a child-like delight
until one day he lifted his shirt sleeve
and pointed at numbers askew I’d not seen before,
embossed on his skin by an alien hand;
pointed again to make sure I noticed,
and I did, and when I couldn’t look anymore
and sought retreat in his guileless face,
his eyes had clouded with water.
People assumed he didn’t know or remember anything,
but he knew how those numbers got into his skin,
and if you were lucky, and happened to be making
the beds of the home on a day when he’d decided
to stay in his room, tiring for once of his shiny chair
in the corner, you would discover that Josef,
whose collection ran into the dozens,
regimented in the top drawer of his chest,
could remember how to play,
with the delicacy of crane flies,
every harmonica he owned.
Deb Scudder wrote the novel The Hag in the Woods, and now concentrates on writing poetry. She lives and works in Lincolnshire, UK.
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