There’s a musty air around
Tonight’s dinner guest.
She’s very old
But her dark-dyed hair
Her lipstick is too red for her
Pale, wrinkled cheeks;
Her chin sags and wobbles faintly
As she smokes a nervous cigarette.
It’s as if she comes from another world
And her gaze is there,
Not with us.
Not with me, the shy child who offers her crisps;
Not with my parents, who invited her –
This alien friend of a friend.
There’s moisture around the corners of her eyes
Where the eyelids have loosened with age.
A gob of mascara sticks there,
Floating in unwept tears.
She seemed so strange to me.
I was frightened by her distance,
The sadness that oozed from her dark pores,
Into the strangled silences of that long
My parents were kind,
Treating her like a fragile vase
Or a convalescing aunt
And, when she’d gone,
There were looks and quiet words
But I was excluded,
Then kissed and sent to bed.
It was years before I understood
The meaning of the numbers
On her arm.