A Life

In all of our talks, when we spoke 
of Iris Murdoch, and whether, at 30,
I’d ever considered the ticking of my clock,
I never once looked at your neck.

But your height and strong build, 
and the taste of cigarettes,
and that smile,
came back yesterday

when I saw the notice of the auction 
for Pierrepoint’s tape measure
that counted the drop from the scaffold
in inches and feet, depending on height
and on weight

and on whether, as he noted in ink,
the neck was a thick neck, a muscular neck,
a long or a feeble or a thin neck;
or a neck that to him was just
an ordinary kind of a neck.

It was only years later,
as you cooked us dinner at your flat,
that I finally looked at your neck.
As we ate the strawberries you’d bought
you said, just this once,
I should break the habit of a lifetime.
“Try them with a little sugar,” you said,
to bring out their sweetness.
And listen to the ticking of the clock.”


© Aileen Ballantyne 2009


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