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Cotton Flannelette

by Les Murray

Shake the bed, the blackened child whimpers,
O shake the bed! through beak lips that
never will come unwry. And wearily the iron-
framed mattress, with nodding crockery bulbs,
jinks on its way.
                          Her brother and sister take
shifts with the terrible glued-together baby
when their unsleeping absolute mother
reels out to snatch an hour, back to stop
the rocking and wring pale blue soap-water
over nude bladders and blood-webbed chars.

Even their cranky evasive father
is awed to stand watches rocking the bed.
Lids frogged shut, O please shake the bed
her contours whorl and braille tattoos
from where, in her nightdress, she flared
out of hearth-drowse to a marrow shriek
pedalling full tilt firesleeves in mid-air,
                          are grainier with repair
than when the doctor, crying, Dear God, woman!
No one can save that child! Let her go!

spared her the treatments of the day.

Shake the bed. Like: count phone poles, rhyme,
classify realities, band the head, any
iteration that will bring, in the brain's forks,
the melting molecules of relief,
and bring them again.
                          O rock the bed!
Nibble water with bared teeth, make lymph
like arrowroot gruel, as your mother grips you
for weeks in the untrained perfect language,
till the doctor relents. Salves and wraps you
in dressings that will be the fire again,
ripping anguish of agony,
                          and will confirm
the ploughland ridges in your woman's skin
for the sixty more years your family weaves you
on devotion's loom, rick-racking the bed
as you yourself, six years old, instruct them.

January 1, 2000 in Poems | Permalink