Finest: Mary Gilonne – “Before…and Afterwards”

Mary Norton Gilonne Finest


In this between day we fold worry away like old thin napkins,
feign a serenity worn light as linen, try to lower our voices.

Your garden never shadows till late, small talk adds up to nothing.
Waiting for illness to shrivel the apple of you to peel and core,

we tally the years in gold and dross, drink too much, too little.
Dark makes us watchful as windows, and I know that each of us

is counting, gathering breath. August night hangs there rustling,
dry as papery honesty, fragile silvered coins. Your sky is full of stars.

and Afterwards

how I pull open each dark drawer flowering dust to day.
your pastels are in faded rows like piano keys,

thin tuneless sticks of hidden blanched hours, no tones
but those of the pith of lemons, powdered skin

or tinned pale salmon Sunday tea. I must pencil you in.
How your red coat hangs like a homing flag hooked fast

behind the kitchen door, pockets still full with your hands,
and the blue scumbled sky washed as it always was

with Norfolk flint and brick, slips down to the Bure.
I need to shade in your leaving, draw the curtains tight.

“I wrote the first draft of this poem in Jo Bell’s famously successful online ‘52’ group. It was originally in two parts and first published by Clear Poetry… many thanks as always Ben…and here both parts are united now in a way that I think they always wanted to be, poems have wills of their own! A favourite poem hangs around in the writer’s mind for years, and this one, as it has hovered in mine for far longer than anything else I’ve written, could I guess be called a definite ‘favourite’.

“All my poems have at least one background story , and strangely enough this one fell into place immediately. At first glance it seems rather sad and sombre, but in actual fact it’s more of a celebration of an exceptional, unique period.  Both my parents died a few years ago, more or less at the very time I wrote this poem. Neither were into doom and gloom, and I needed to write something light and simple with enough feeling to put the moment across, and to underline how passing brings people together in a rather magical way. The setting of course is Norfolk, with its special atmosphere, there’s something beautifully ancient and quietly apart about this area of the country. Water, land, space, and a strange continuum of people even when they’re no longer around.

“I’ve been living in France for many years, and ‘Before…and Afterwards’ also serves to anchor time and place for someone like me who is neither here nor there but very much in between. The traces we leave behind, and the small details of our travelling through, seem incredibly important to me.

“‘Before…and Afterwards’ has never appeared at a reading yet, hopefully when all this Covid chaos is behind us it will finally be time to read it aloud.”

Mary Gilonne is a translator living in France but originally from Devon. She has won the Wenlock, Wirral, Segora and Sentinel Prizes, and her work has appeared in Magma, Prole, Strix, Antiphon among many others, and in several anthologies. Her pamphlet, Incidentals is published by 4Word Press.

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