Don’t Hesitate to Ask
So many of the people I’ve informed that she is dead have said ‘If there’s anything we can do, anything at all, don’t hesitate to ask.’ Well, actually, since you offer, yes: Would you mind driving me headlong through the universe at ten million miles an hour, scattering stars like trashcans scorching the sky? Put your foot to the floor, crash right through the gate of Fate, trespass galaxies, straight over black holes and supernovas to the hideout of God. Wait for me while I break down the boardroom door and drag the high and mighty fucker out of his conference with Eternity, his summit on the Mysteries Of Life, and get him to explain to me why it was so necessary to torture and humiliate and finally exterminate my wife. But no. These things I do not say because I know that by ‘anything at all’ you mean a cup of tea or a lift into town, if you’re going that way anyway.
Michel Faber is a novelist and poet.Read more about this poet
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2016. Best Scottish Poems is an online publication, consisting of 20 poems chosen by a different editor each year, with comments by the editor and poets. It provides a personal overview of a year of Scottish poetry. The editor in 2016 was Catherine Lockerbie.
If many of the poems I read in 2016 were accepting of illness, ageing and ultimate death, this one is a coruscating blast of almost literally cosmic rage. Protean writer and multi-award winning novelist Michel Faber’s collection Undying, about the hideous terminal cancer his beloved wife had to endure, is a hard, hard read – at times unflinching in detail, at others tender in her memory – and here, a white-hot howl of fury at the insane injustice fate or God metes out and our pallid, useless politeness in the face of it. The sheer linguistic violence of pain and grief shatters the heart – as so it should.
This poem was written shortly after my wife Eva died of cancer. We had lived together in a railway stationhouse in the Highlands for many years and I returned there alone to grieve. It was an isolated spot and I'm not a driver so naturally neighbours, friends and acquaintances offered various kinds of support.
It is, of course, lovely when people offer you a lift into town or a cup of tea. And useful, too. But the poem addresses the impossible gulf between such gestures and what you truly feel you need when you've just lost the love of your life.
Most poems that address death and grief are elegiac and dignified, wrapping up the pain in garlands of beautiful verse. That's fine for those who want that. This poem is for those who want something else.