The orchids my mother gave me when we first met are still alive, twelve days later. Although some of the buds remain closed as secrets. Twice since I carried them back, like a baby in a shawl, from her train station to mine, then home. Twice since then the whole glass carafe has crashed falling over, unprovoked, soaking my chest of drawers. All the broken waters. I have rearranged the upset orchids with troubled hands. Even after that the closed ones did not open out. The skin shut like an eye in the dark; the closed lid. Twelve days later, my mother’s hands are all I have. Her voice is fading fast. Even her voice rushes through a tunnel the other way from home. I close my eyes and try to remember exactly: a paisley pattern scarf, a brooch, a navy coat. A digital watch her daughter was wearing when she died. Now they hang their heads, and suddenly grow old – the proof of meeting. Still, her hands, awkward and hard to hold fold and unfold a green carrier bag as she tells the story of her life. Compressed. Airtight. A sad square, then a crumpled shape. A bag of tricks. Her secret life – a hidden album, a box of love letters. A door opens and closes. Time is outside waiting. I catch the draught in my winter room. Airlocks keep the cold air out. Boiling water makes flowers live longer. So does cutting the stems with a sharp knife.
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.Read more about this poet