In the last few years, I feel Tony Harrison’s poetry has left me both stirred and shaken. Further, what I feel is that he does not mean to shock the reader but his use of language is such that it is kind of raw, haunting and diverse. When I read this poem for the first time, I was filled with wonder although it is not a delightful poem. It is very unique; the first stanza speaks of his mother’s death, the pain and the memory of her. This is a lot of anguish though not colored by sentimentalism.
Though my mother was already two years dead
Dad kept her slippers warming by the gas,
put hot water bottles her side of the bed
and still went to renew her transport pass.
The following stanza is very personal. It describes a lot of grieving that is sacred and personal to a person. The father is discreet about keeping her memory alive and he is very conscious about it.
You couldn't just drop in. You had to phone.
He'd put you off an hour to give him time
to clear away her things and look alone
as though his still raw love were such a crime.
Although the following stanza is yet again, there is a tone of not being able to let go from the poet’. There is a refusal to accept her death.
He couldn't risk my blight of disbelief
though sure that very soon he'd hear her key
scrape in the rusted lock and end his grief.
He knew she'd just popped out to get the tea.
Harrison describes the acceptance of his mother’s death. There is this cold and sinking feeling that she will never return which is what most of us feel. It is discomfortingly and disconcertingly real.
I believe life ends with death, and that is all.
You haven't both gone shopping; just the same,
in my new black leather phone book there's your name
and the disconnected number I still call.
(Review by Kabita Sonowal)