If I asked, she’d put down her cigarettes
or tea towel, and sit on the emerald velvet stool,
and from her hands, tight-knitted hands, the notes
fell out, like gloves unravelling their wool.
She’d play Scott Joplin’s waltz, ‘Bethena’, its title
like her name, so I thought the song was hers,
its pining melody, a silk-scarf fall
of crotchets, quavers. That song was in her fingers
like there are songs in mine, though I rarely play –
so little time. But today, I’m listening
to Scott Joplin on my speaker, and thinking
of the green and glacial drawing room, the way
she played those dying phrases, the grace, the pain.
Betony was my mother’s given name.
First I would draw my name in capitals –
H – A – N across the landscape of the paper
then make the letters three-dimensional,
then colour them, the edges always darker
like my name was standing in the sun,
each letter propping up another, and solid
as though made from wood or brick or iron.
I’d add a line for them to stand on, rooted.
In that house of risk – unstable, unwell –
where often I was thrown like a paper jet
downstairs and hit the hard floor of the hall,
sprawled useless as a crumbled alphabet,
those drawings mattered. That name I wrote for myself,
over and over, standing up for itself.