Sestina: Meeting a friend By Leo Aylen

Sestina: Meeting a friend 
not seen for many years, who’s won a Nobel Prize for physics, but has Alzheimer’s

Mind in fragments … Like crumbling masonry?
Like a tile, wind-struck, sliding downwards, leaving
Glimpses of age-warped batten, stained by rot?		
Like thin gaps in stone walls, where mortar, flaking 
To dusty powder, falls away? Like broken
Lumps of limestone, softened, crumpled by time?

No. No. How dare I! David’s personal time’s	
Been filched from him. Why?  Why’s the masonry —			
To use that image — of his great brain broken
Into scrap-heaps of non-connection leaving —		
Well, leaving what behind?  Thin strands of flaking
Memories, now old, stale, and tasting rotten.

Or does memory failing transform rotten		
Apples of half-remembered moments dropped when time
Was bud and twirls of birdsong, when “Look! Flaking!”
Meant blown runners gasping, when masonry
Was castle walls we climbed, exultant, leaving
Triumph flags there; a smiling time when broken 

Limbs quickly healed in the unbroken
Sunshine of summer ladhood … There, split, rotten
Stumps were home to bright creepy things, and time  
Stretched out like a naked sunbather leaving
His body on earth to dream-carve masonry
Of cloud-castles. No. No. That scene is flaking

Away in horror, as we watch David’s flaking	 
Grapples and clutches reach for an old broken
Ladder, stumble on bits of masonry	
Scattered over barn floors, or squelch in rotten		
Patches of mud, trying to untie time	
And enter the room which everyone is leaving.

No. No more images. David is leaving
Bits of himself behind. He sees them flaking
Off him. Or does he? Is he drowning in time
Or dropping out of it? What has been broken	
Inside his brain? What made the tissue rotten? 
What crumbles memory like masonry?

Scrap that word ‘masonry.’ David is leaving
His brilliant mind behind, rotten and flaking.
His life now lies broken, murdered by time. 

Leo Aylen: born KwaZulu, South Africa. 9 collections; latest The Day The Grass Came (“a triumph” Melvyn Bragg, “Stupendous” Simon Callow); 5 prizes (Arvon 2ce; Peterloo 2ce; Bridport). 100 poems in anthologies; approx. 100 poems broadcast; performances in theatres, universities, schools, in Britain, North America, Africa, Albert Hall, St Paul’s Cathedral, Round House, New York night clubs, to 4000 Zulus in an open air amphitheatre. 3 solo shows American nationwide TV (CBS). He writes usually in strict forms.

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