My grandmother lifts it from the iron hook
wedged between the stonework of the outside wall.
It was part of the architecture, blending into the exterior
like an upturned boat on a pebble beach.
Her complexion, death white, stealing the reflection
from snow piled high beside the toilet door,
where the loud hiss from a leaking cistern mutes
her tuneful song.

The red clay tiles screech with disapproval
as she moves it into position on the kitchen floor.
Three bowlfuls of cold water, a handful of soapflakes,
and a moment of silence as she leans against
the space between the coal fire and mantelpiece.
Dark pauses for a while, then light shrinks
to the fire’s glow. Her hand trembles a lighted match
to two half-candles stuck with wax in china saucers.

She lifts the large black kettle from the fire as it splutters
with readiness. My great-grandfather’s picture fades
in a fury of steam as she empties it into the bath,
though his dark eyes still ponder the age of a woman
who is still his child.
Ready, she says, and my grandfather puts to sleep his diary,
strips naked and lowers himself into the warm water,
his shadow still clothed in a young man’s skin.

Rowland Hughes ©