Tick Tock said The Penguin



'Tick Tock' said the Penguin
as it marched from my hand,
'I'm sorry' I said,
Dennis tilted his head
to look at me
in that young Robert Mitchum
way that he had,
dark, under dark eyebrows,
under dark hair in shattered waves
dark as the Penguin in his
funeral suit,
'Tick Tock' said the Penguin
as he turned it around
and it's feet made no sound
against the scorched
green baize of the tablecloth
Christine, by the range,
swept the grey rock and roll skirt
under her thighs
with one pale arm
while I remembered the guitars
and the dancers shocked on white
at her wedding,
She watched the fire,
her head nodding gently
her hair a blonde
dandelion clock ticking slowly
in the breeze of dreams
from the flames
The Penguin came towards me
'Tick Tock' it said,
I stopped it,
'What will you do with it'? I asked
Dennis looked at the Penguin in my hand
'Do you want it'?
I shook my head
I was too old,
eight needs something more,
I looked down at the box on the floor
The box full of bibs and bottles
tiny gloves and knitted boots
'We'll give them away' he said
'We can't have any more'
Christine looked up
and for a moment I thought
she saw something else
something not me
but something inside me,
'Was it a boy?' I said
'It was a boy' said Dennis
Christine looked away
The fire lit the curves of dark guitars
and the smiles on the faces
of slow dancers
no longer shocking by a fireside,
no longer daring at a church,
no whispers here,
no hand covered mouths
in this house where I first
fell in love, where she was fourteen
and I was seven and her skin
of cinnamon sprinkled on milk
and her eyes, and her eyes,
and old Mrs. Rackstraw before that,
giving boiled sweets to her own
grandchildren who didn't know her
and my own lips sealed
on pain of kiss of death
and she was tall and dirty
and happy amongst the clink of bottles
and the quick snap of her snuff-tin lid,
I let go of the Penguin,
'Tick Tock' it said,
as it marched across the cloth, to Dennis,
where I hoped it would stay,
In the scent of Christine's dress
scorching by the fire
and the smell of irons pressed
into the tablecloth,
Dennis turned the Penguin around,
Christine looked up briefly
and smiled a smile draped in black
with happiness as incongruous as
a painted yellow beak,
'Tick Tock' said the Penguin
as it marched from Dennis' hand,
I shrank back into the chair,
He looked across at Christine
who tucked her arm around her legs
pulling them in closer,
tighter, shutting out the room
and in her eyes I could see the flames
that must have danced inside her head
to guitars in a minor key,
she looked up and saw
something else, again,
something else that wasn't me,
and the fire in her hair burned cold
and her shoulders bent against the range
and I remembered her young a year ago
with the light in her face
and now here, stillborn,
no second time in church
with just the sound of crackling flames
and a child that's born
without a name
and the laughter stilled inside her man
and the box of threats beneath the table
'Tick Tock' said the Penguin
as it marched across the cloth,
and brought the darkness with it
of a funeral parlour clock
and the taste of fear, sharp in my mouth
as the darkness deep in Dennis' eyes,
that told me then why I was there,
not for myself, with hair run wild
and socks rolled up and down
and knees that ached with scabs
and grazes, and mischief planted
deep as any hardy perennial crop
but because I was, just that, a child,
and the Penguin said, 'Tick, Tock'