In the summer of 1952 my mother’s second son, Michael, died after contracting a gastro-intestinal infection. He was thirteen months old. All her life my mother carried that grief, virtually unable to speak it except to me.
I am posting this poem for Baby Loss Awareness Week (9-15 October), in memory of Michael and in memory of my mother, and thinking of all those who have been affected by the death of a baby or child or by the loss of a pregnancy.
My mother with sweet peas
She couldn’t bear formality,
didn’t want bouquets or wreaths.
She heaped loose sweet peas
on his small white box
and when the men in slate suits
carried him into the chapel, the flowers fell
and scattered across the black floor –
violet, pink, indigo, deep velvet purple –
their sweetness drifting on the Devon air.
It’s her memory, not mine.
Later she gathered the sweet peas,
took them home, strewed them on her bed,
in his cot. She said the white ones
edged with inky mauve were sweetest.
In a day or two the petals dried to tissue,
fine as skin; she filled the house again –
jars of fresh sweet peas
in every room. All summer
she brought in their scent and colour.
When there were no more sweet peas,
she slept. This is her memory.
After that she never bought or grew them
but if she caught the scent
in a florist’s shop or garden,
she was back in that long summer,
her boy just gone.