Gap Year

Gap Year
Gap Year
(for Mateo)

I
I remember your Moses basket before you were born.
I’d stare at the fleecy white sheet for days, weeks,
willing you to arrive, hardly able to believe
I would ever have a real baby to put in the basket.

I’d feel the mound of my tight tub of a stomach,
and you moving there, foot against my heart,
elbow in my ribcage, turning, burping, awake, asleep.
One time I imagined I felt you laugh.

I’d play you Handel’s Water Music or Emma Kirkby
singing Pergolesi. I’d talk to you, my close stranger,
call you Tumshie, ask when you were coming to meet me.
You arrived late, the very hot summer of eighty-eight.

You had passed the due date string of eights,
and were pulled out with forceps, blue, floury,
on the fourteenth of August on Sunday afternoon.
I took you home on Monday and lay you in your basket.

II
Now, I peek in your room and stare at your bed
hardly able to imagine you back in there sleeping,
Your handsome face – soft, open. Now you are eighteen,
six foot two, away, away in Costa Rica, Peru, Bolivia.

I follow your trails on my Times Atlas:
from the Caribbean side of Costa Rica to the Pacific,
the baby turtles to the massive leatherbacks.
Then on to Lima, to Cuzco. Your grandfather

rings: ‘Have you considered altitude sickness,
Christ, he’s sixteen thousand feet above sea level.’
Then to the lost city of the Incas, Macchu Picchu,
Where you take a photograph of yourself with the statue

of the original Tupac. You are wearing a Peruvian hat.
Yesterday in Puno before catching the bus for Copacabana,
you suddenly appear on a webcam and blow me a kiss,
you have a new haircut; your face is grainy, blurry.

Seeing you, shy, smiling, on the webcam reminds me
of the second scan at twenty weeks, how at that fuzzy 
moment back then, you were lying cross-legged with 
an index finger resting sophisticatedly on one cheek.

You started the Inca trail in Arctic conditions
and ended up in subtropical. Now you plan the Amazon 
in Bolivia. Your grandfather rings again to say
‘There’s three warring factions in Bolivia, warn him

against it. He canny see everything. Tell him to come home.’
But you say all the travellers you meet rave about Bolivia. You want
to see the Salar de Uyuni,
the world’s largest salt-flats, the Amazonian rainforest.

And now you are not coming home till four weeks after 
your due date. After Bolivia, you plan to stay
with a friend’s Auntie in Argentina.
Then – to Chile where you’ll stay with friends of Diane’s.

And maybe work for the Victor Jara Foundation.
I feel like a home-alone mother; all the lights
have gone out in the hall, and now I am 
wearing your large black slippers, flip-flopping

into your empty bedroom, trying to imagine you
in your bed. I stare at the photos you send by messenger:
you on the top of the world, arms outstretched, eager.
Blue sky, white snow;  you by Lake Tararhua, beaming.

My heart soars like the birds in your bright blue skies.
My love glows like the sunrise over the lost city.
I sing along to Ella Fitzgerald, A tisket A tasket.
I have a son out in the big wide world.

A flip and a skip ago, you were dreaming in your basket.
Jackie Kay

From Jackie Kay, Darling: New and Selected Poems (Bloodaxe Books, 2007) 

Reproduced by kind permission of the publisher.

Jackie Kay

Jackie Kay was born and brought up in Scotland. She has published five collections of poetry for adults (The Adoption Papers won the Forward Prize, a Saltire Award and a Scottish Arts Council Book Award) and several for children. She was awarded an MBE in 2006.

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