Linda MacLean

Linda MacLean

Lyceum, my heart 

 

I was thinking about you yesterday 

As I was making a mask 

I was thinking  

(How to say this without being defeatist)  

But  

What if this is the end of us? 

(boom, I’ve thought that before) 

But what if 

(Well) 

What if people think you’re no more than a luxury item? 

(And not just because you’re beautiful) 

What if they say those words that make your heart sink 

Like 

In the grand scheme of things 

When push comes to shove 

You’re not exactly  

Not exactly saving lives 

Not exactly  

 

Essential 

 

What if they say those words 

And then turn away 

Turn away to face their screens and watch great stories well-told somewhere else because  

(Well) 

Because they need to 

They need to feel better 

(We need to feel better) 

And (as well) 

Maybe we need to not feel catastrophe in its own time 

Because it’s beyond us 

Like shock 

Like the way extreme shock can numb your wounded legs and let you run 

Until it’s safe to feel the pain (and then, well, oooyah) 

Maybe the very last thing we need right now is to know how we feel 

Maybe what we really need is to know that it’s going to end 

And when? 

When? 

Because without the end we’re never safe  

Never safe to see the wound for what it is 

And cry the ALMIGHTY CRY we can’t cry yet 

 

But it’s in there 

That thing that monitors your everyday ‘I’m doing fine, thank you’ 

(I know this) 

That thing that cradles your fear  

Helps you sleep 

Pours you some wine 

Lets you laugh 

Yes laugh 

While it lurks 

(You know it can’t stay down there forever) 

(You know, sure as the whole day is light and dark together) 

(You know it’s lurking) 

Now and again you’ll feel its head rise to catch you off-guard 

At the news of a kindness 

Or a sadness spoken out loud by someone who has lost too much 

(Cry their heart) 

Too much to bury it for the safe day 

Their safe day was yesterday 

 

Or it will find you ironing a piece of cloth you found in a drawer perhaps 

Buried there for one reason 

Or another 

Never thinking that one day you would put it to good use 

(You bought it because you wanted to be beautiful) 

Remember 

You bought it because every sunbather in Mombasa was draped in something like it 

But it never looked quite right against your skin 

Never looked quite as bright against a grey sky 

Isn’t that why you buried it? 

Isn’t it? 

Your head will tilt as if to ask a question of it 

The way your head tilts when it suspects an answer is almost within its grasp 

Yes 

There it is 

And your knees buckle 

 

Unbidden 

 

You fall into midnight  

The first end time 

As you walk out of a hotel in Nairobi with the last receipt of the year 

Or ever 

And it explodes behind you 

(boom) 

And 

(BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM) 

Your body is transformed into a creature that stands perfectly still until the danger has passed 

Time 

(well time) 

Does not pass 

It divides itself into more and ever more slivers of itself 

As your slow-motion brain stands silent witness to your body  

Rivetted by tremor 

Rooted 

Without understanding 

Under a crumbling wall 

 

Is this the end of us? 

 

I was making masks yesterday 

Because I wanted to protect people from harm 

My son, in particular, 

His colleagues in their general practise 

And I ran out of quilting material  

One hundred percent cotton as recommended 

Doubled 

Breathable 

Strong enough to stop the killer that might take them from us 

(Do not cry, heart, not yet) 

But I had run out of fabric and they needed more masks 

So I remembered the drawer where cotton might be 

For one reason or another 

Forgotten 

And there it was 

Pole kwa yaliyo kufika Mungu ndiye atakaye kuongoza 

The motto printed across the bottom of the cloth 

I used to know what that meant 

I knew what it meant when I bought it 

Yes 

I remember asking because I didn’t want to buy something I didn’t understand 

Yes 

There it is 

Sympathies for what befell you. God will be your guide 

(Cry now, then) 

(Cry old hard tears) 

 

See the wound for what it is 

 

There is a man across the street from the exploded hotel in Nairobi 

A Greek as it happens 

I can see he’s shouting 

But I can’t hear 

I can’t move 

I must look as fixed as I feel 

And then he runs at me 

Yes runs 

I can see with my widened eyes that he’s going to run right into me 

And he’s a heavy Greek no question 

I understand at some level that there’s danger in that 

But he’s here now 

And he pushes me 

He’s big, he’s heavy, he’s strong 

And I fall hard onto the pavement 

I’m sure I was hurt 

But I don’t remember any pain 

I do remember looking around to see the wall behind me land on the shadow of myself 

 

And for the first time  

 

I see the smile and apology on his face 

See him explain with big gestures 

I still can’t hear anything 

He has remarkably square hands 

He wants me to move  

He wants to make sure I won’t be harmed by debris or  

(BOOOOOOOM) 

A second explosion 

(smaller but somehow more frightening) 

I jump up 

I jump 

And I run  

I have no idea where I am going 

But I am not staying here 

Not staying there 

The Greek is faster than I am 

He gets ahead of me and paces his walk to mine 

He slows 

I slow 

He asks me what’s in my bag that I was guarding so tightly 

I say  

Wine, I’m going to a New Year’s party 

I don’t want to turn up empty-handed, do I? 

Ha 

We laugh 

Unbelievably 

We laugh 

I had forgotten that we laughed  

Until now 

As it bubbles up from beneath the hurt 

We will laugh  

 

This is how we survive 

 

But we will cry before we laugh again 

Held in the safety of your embrace. 

Tags: Letters