What we Don't Know
"In memory of Annie, the wife of W K Stephenson
of Settle, who died the 24th October 1850.
Also of Arthur their son, who died the 7th day
of November 1850, aged 19 days"
.............. Tombstone in Settle Churchyard

You read your body's bloodless auguries:
promise of life or economic threat,
extending a line, starting a new story
or wrapping you more tightly in a net.

Was it your first confinement or your tenth?
the epitaph omits how old you were
and whether you were kind and quick to laugh
and with what hope or fear you felt him stir.

Carrying him the best part of a year
you must have thought about him every day.
You knew that being pregnant often meant
nine months of work screwed up and thrown away.

Your husband's dates are not recorded here.
We don't know how much time he had for grief,
whether the baby might have struggled through
or if the nineteenth day brought sour relief.

Only the mathematics are exact,
a trap for casual connoisseurs of dates
to spring a sudden blurring of the eyes
and a blind look to where the future waits.


© Brian Fewster and Terence Cluderay
Published in Limestone Landscape, 1993

Return to main poetry index
Return to home page