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THE VIRTUES OF JADE

It has courage, he says;
it may break but never bend.

It has equity, he says;
its angles will never injure.

It has wisdom, he says;
pure with a bright warm lustre.

This bracelet, he says,
as he slides it over her wrist,

will protect you from life's raw edges.
So it proves.

At her death, aged ninety,
he wraps her in silk,

places upon her lips
a cicada of jade.
TRAINS

Her husband feeds her,
spoon pretending to be a train.
Sometimes he shuts his eyes,
can't bear to see the mass of wrinkles
break in half.

When she was young
he loved her flaming red hair,
her poise and grace,
her sexy lilac eyes.

Now she chews - a blob of porridge
escapes from her lips.
He dabs her soft chin
with an index finger,
wipes the sogginess into a cloth.

Chuff Chuff? she says
so he begins again.
APPLES

When they start to fall,
she gathers them in her apron,
tumbles them into the basket
where they sprawl like water.

She carries them to the house,
weeds out the rotten,
the ones plugged with drugged wasps
or studded with fly.

She slices the rosiest for her sister
who is not allowed to touch the knife,
puts the rest in sugared water to stew.
Clouds of sweet steam fill the air,

bring her father in from the yard,
muck still on his boots.
At night she dreams of apples
and the one Adam hides

behind his back,
will not let her taste,
teasing with tales of serpents
and an angel's sword.
CELLAR

1940, but they feel safe here,
between the ping-pong table
and the bottled fruit.
Light from a tiny barred window
spills down dust-motes.
There's a birdcage
he always knocks his head on,
a cupboard that creaks.

Today, it's hot -
they remove more clothes than usual.
Her buttons roll into mouseholes.
His braces, hurriedly unsnapped,
fly into a corner where they stay
for fifty years.
Upstairs, pans clatter.
Where's Lizzy? Cook shouts
but with his tongue in her ear
she doesn't cotton on.

All their arrangements (not knowing
the way war will turn),
love tokens,
sweat from their bodies,
snow from their shoulders,
moons from their fingers,
white breath,
semen,
salt,
lie in scuffs on the floor.
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