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Two Poems


A Scattering

    I expect you've seen the footage: elephants,
finding the bones of one of their own kind
dropped by the wayside, picked clean by scavengers
and the sun, then untidily left there,
    decide to do something about it.

    But what, exactly? They can't, of course,
reassemble the old elephant magnificence;
they can't even make a tidier heap. But they can
hook up bones with their trunks and chuck them
    this way and that way. So they do.

    And their scattering has an air
of deliberate ritual, ancient and necessary.
Their great size, too, makes them the very
embodiment of grief, while the play of their trunks
    lends sprezzatura.

    Elephants puzzling out
the anagram of their own anatomy,
elephants at their abstracted lamentations—
may their spirit guide me as I place
    my own sad thoughts in new, hopeful arrangements.
 

Afterlife

As if she couldn't bear not to be busy and useful
after her death, she willed her body to medical science.

Today, as a number of times before, I walked
past the institution that took her gift, and thought,

'That's where my dead wife lives. I hope they're treating her kindly.'

The dark brick, the depthless windows, gave nothing away,
but the place seemed preferable to either Heaven or Hell,

whose multitudes meekly receive whatever the design teams
and PR whizzes of religion have conjured up for them.

My wife is in there, somewhere, doing practical work:
her organs and tissues are educating young doctors

or helping researchers outwit the disease that outwitted her.
So it's a hallowed patch of London for me now.

But it's not a graveyard, to dawdle and remember and mope in,
and I had work to do, too, in a different part of town.


Christopher Reid

A Scattering and Anniversary
Farrar, Straus and Giroux


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