Concrete Thinking by Raymond Miller

Concrete Thinking

The mysteries of Stonehenge
have confounded scholars and archaeologists;
New Age Travellers, Pagans and Druids
each try to squeeze a narrative from granite:
a domain of the dead or a place of worship,
the best angle to witness celestial orbits.
But who else might assemble a symbolic edifice
just far enough away from the cities?

It is only several millennia
since Mental Health Service Planners
sought assistance from their neighbours:
There is so much unemployment,
the insane grow sick with boredom.
We can do no more for them –
let’s ask Occupational Therapists
to provide them with a Programme.

The Occupational Therapists
were so pleased to be consulted
after centuries secreted in adjoining Portakabins,
that they strove for something striking.
Understand that this is many years
before computers, long even before knitting.
Much sitting in circles drinking tea ensued,
many sighs, many eyes turned to the heavens
before at last they came to a consensus
(in itself a momentous occasion for therapists).
Rock Climbing, they announced; we will teach
the mentally ill to climb rocks.

Observing signs of panic on the faces
of The Planners, the O.T.s quickly added:
“There will be Risk Assessments,
Elective Pathways and Safety Nets
that are Robust and Fit for Purpose.”

Have you no proper work for us?
the insane complained,
these rocks are many miles away,
too far, too cold, too high, too wet.
The Planners and Therapists were dejected
until one of their number suggested
that if Mohammed can’t go to the mountain,
then the mountain must come to Mohammed.

So the Project started, hewing and hauling
great boulders from vast distances,
providing for the mentally ill,
the paid employment they’d requested.
At the completion of their labours
the mad returned exhausted,
spent their wages on cheap cider
and said fuck off to rock climbing.
And thus has it always been
for the Occupational Therapist.

by Raymond Miller

Editor’s Note: Sometimes a narrative leads you places you don’t expect. The closing stanza of this poem is delightful.

A Clockwise Direction by Raymond Miller

A Clockwise Direction

I found that old wedding photo we lost
behind a doll in our daughter’s room.
Russian, as it happens, the doll that is –
I can read some significance in that:
so full of themselves, they miss the bleeding
obvious. I wiped the dust from off its surface,
made you 21 again and placed us

on the bookshelf where P meets Q.
I’d have liked it before your favourite author
but her shelf’s too close to the ground.
All my books are still in alphabetical order;
I wake at 7 to clean and tidy,
progressing in a clockwise direction,
starting at the front door and ending in the bath.

I compare it to my parents’ wedding picture
that’s hanging next to the dining room door:
they’d a bigger cake, more friends and relations,
dressed black and white, a formal occasion;
contemplative, no eye for the camera.
My mother’s fuller in the face than I remember
and isn’t that an ashtray beside the cake?

I blow these pictures up out of proportion
trying to discover germs of the future:
leukaemia, cancer and emphysema
buried within a forgotten Baboushka.
How happy we appear! My Mum said never
had I looked so handsome, like Richard Gere.
Perhaps that’s the joke I’m laughing at.

Behind us I trace the faintest whisper
of the tower blocks blown in ‘88.
As we’re cutting the cake, your face
burns with embarrassment
or anticipation of the sauce to come.
I can feel the grip that you have on my arm,
as if I might be the first to depart.

When lights fade I think I can hear you breathing,
but it’s central heating or a noise in the loft.
I close the windows to keep your scent in
and reach out to touch an amputation –
I said we shouldn’t buy a bed this wide.
You never see pictures taken at funerals
unless somebody important has died.

by Raymond Miller

Editor’s Note: This poem deceives the reader with its conversational tone, but by the fifth stanza, the first touch of foreboding appears. The last stanza’s intense grief is as ordinary as it is difficult.