Poetry: Chopsticks | clivejames.com
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She struggles with her chopsticks, and I watch her slyly
As she mounts a two-pronged attack on a mound
Of noodles, or pincer-prods a shrivelled prawn around
Its dish of gloop. I watch her as she shyly
Sets down the chopsticks and picks up a spoon.
Chicken and cashews, sweet-and-sour pork; no shredded beef —
It’s too difficult, what with my teeth
And special fried rice. Dinner will be over soon,

Ten years to the night since he died, and I concentrate
On fashioning from my chopsticks a mast
Like the masts on the model clipper ships he built
And re-built and re-built and re-built
Hour after hour, night after night, working late
Threading cotton through the tiny balsa blocks — a stickler for detail —
To make the rigging shipshape on the imagined past
Into which, in his little room, he’d set sail...

Someone’s singing, ‘So merry Christmas, and a happy new year’
And I tap out the beat with my chopsticks; Is everything all right?
You’re very quiet. Everything’s fine, mother, let me sip my beer
And remember how we sat with him — ten years to the night —
How we sat with him till it was nearly dawn
And watched him try to breathe,
The white bed between us, and him on it, and grief
No easier now there’s a tablecloth, a plate with one sad prawn;

Remember how I sat at the piano with my sister
To play our duet — ‘Chopsticks’ — over and over, ad nauseam,
Killing time till he came in to pour himself a scotch
And signal Christmas day....The clipper ships
Still have pride of place in the sitting-room, the museum
Where I’ll sit for a ‘nightcap’ among his prints and pipes,
And pour myself one more from his decanter, and watch
The late film while my mother dozes and my sister,

Miles away, plays ‘Chopsticks’ for all I know;
Where I’ll sit and think of ten years gone and her two cats gone,
Gone with the Christmas dinners, my grandmother and great-aunt,
With the endless Sunday mornings, Billy Cotton on the radio
And the endless Sunday lunches of roast beef,
Gone with half her mind and all her teeth;
Now she watches as I place my chopsticks together. Go on,
Finish up that last prawn. But I can’t.