It started at Kansas, roughly centre,
and two strands of blue for back stitches:
the calm, smooth line of a river.
At each stitch, it felt as if she was by my side
instead of undergoing another round of treatment.
Her remission had been short-lived.
The map spread north from Wichita to the Canadian border
and west to Seattle and south to San Francisco, grew major cities
and landmarks: Mount Rushmore, the Golden Gate Bridge.
They triggered memories of holidays,
healthy times exploring new places and textures.
Recollections increasing as the stitches did.
Lake Michigan bloomed in two shades of blue as the map stretched
to the eastern seaboard then south to Florida, back across Texas.
Each cross-stitch neatly railroaded. Los Angeles the final city.
When I look at it, I see her welcoming smile.
I sent pictures of the work in progress.
Sharing urged me to finish so I could show her.
On a trip in the pine-scented valley of Yosemite
I watched two mule deer fawns thread through
the tall grass as their mother watched the setting sun.
I never found out what she thought of the map.
When I think of her, I see the bustle of Cannery Row
and feel the warmth and expanse of Monterey Bay.
When you said you’d wished you’d met me sooner
I spluttered my coffee, fortunately, back into its cup.
I don’t do nostalgia. You thought I would have stopped
you making so many mistakes, I would have saved
heartache and you’d have had longer with someone who got you.
I’d have got it if you’d wanted to close the age gap
and give us a shared history of TV programmes, but
you were talking of catching me when I first moved
to Leicester. When I’d have written you off as too old.
When I’d buried myself so deep I wasn’t sure who I was.
My coffee chilled. When I’d arrived with my music collection
and a file of poems, keen to move on. When I was an adult
but still a teenager and you’d reached middle management
and not yet poetry. To me, life is about making the best
of a bad job. I should have skipped coffee. You wouldn’t
have loved me sooner. I pour cold coffee away.
And, yes, I wanted longer with you, but not to go back.
The Undeniable Voice
Ella Fitzgerald 25/4/17 – 15/6/96
Hers was the voice that Marilyn Monroe lobbied
to hear at the Mocambo night club.
The voice that promoted her to bandleader
when women were supposed to be housewives.
The voice that kept her alive when homeless
after running from a step-father when her mother died.
The voice that grew out of a church in Yonkers.
The voice that lullabied her half-sister’s child,
whom she adopted, to sleep.
The voice that persuaded Chick Webb to sign
up despite her gawky and unkempt appearance.
The voice that recorded one hundred and fifty songs,
carried the weight of awards,
that will not be silenced by the loss of its vessel