Great-Uncle Leslie Takes a Horse Hoof to the Cranium as a Boy and Lives Ninety Years – Jessica Holmes

After he blacked out
but before he died,
before he raced the village boys
around the county border,
Rabbit, they called him,
               never lost a race—
before the war started,
and the pubs emptied out,
and the radio turned static,
               Not quite right in the head, that Leslie,
Nice chap though, good for a laugh—
before the war ended, before he

saved up enough for
his very own
bicycle, placed his life’s savings
in the front basket and rode
the twenty miles to Norwich,
where he opened
his very own
bank account—
                             before he put the kettle on
for nieces, for nephews,
stashed blocks of dark
chocolate in the freezer,
before he owned a cottage
with a garden in which he grew
all his own vegetables,
green beans, courgettes,
tomatoes sprung up from
soggy Norfolk soil—before
his sister bought him a telephone,
before the cottage grew cluttered,
and weddings,
and funerals,
and the first time someone said, What if he forgets he’s left
the oven on? What if someone breaks in
and tries to hurt him? What if—
before the home

with its well-trimmed hedges, its flat-
screen TVs, before fresh air
became a goody,
and someone said, Leslie, your trousers have holes in them,
Have you another pair? Don’t you
know? Leslie, it’s time
for your bath. This way,
This way,—
before he goes mostly blind,

and the mangy slippers,
and the paper teacup, he slurps,
the bought vanilla sandwich cookie he fingers
for ages, then breaks in half
and the nurses chastise him; he’s trying
to get at the icing, they don’t
see, he doesn’t want the outside, its bland crumblingness,
he’s young again, a child, you see,
he wants to get straight to the icing—before
he’s wrinkled/senile/sweeping someone
else’s floor in his dressing gown, gone\crazy
he used to sing;

               he sang and everything went still; all the eyes and ears in the room unsealed
having never encountered
a songbird in the body
of a boy.

                (Can you remember your birthday, Leslie?
‘Course I can.

‘Course he can.)