Week 191: Bereavement, by Patricia Beer

Patricia Beer (1919-1999) has a very distinctive voice, as can be heard in this remarkably honest poem about the loss of a parent that does not shrink from facing up to the anger and sense of abandonment that can be a component of grief. I think the image of mother and daughter as sheep and lamb could have been a tricky one to handle, but in the event is brilliantly sustained.


I was too young. I had to watch
My heavy mother lie on her back to scratch.
They never touched ground again, those brittle feet.
I cannot eat what all the others eat.

Foolish mother, rolling to death, how long
Shall the deserted bare an aching tongue
To call for what is drying up inside you
As the afternoon trees begin to shade you?

Soon he will come, the farmer, and haul away
And hide that sheep, who treacherously
Lay down, where I can never find her
Nor go into the slaughter house behind her.

The sharp May grass sings under my nose
And soon the farmer will hear a new voice
That lost the day wailing about hunger
But towards nightfall turns to anger.

Patricia Beer

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