The walrus tusk
By Ian Revie

I can hold it in the palm of my hand.
It fits well but age has turned it almost
more brown than yellow as well as smooth.
It is a keepsake worth more than a legacy
yet probably only picked up on a walk
along the shore of San Carlos Sound.

A bull walrus, but only young, died
so I can hold it now, in my hand,
and imagine what only family legends
and a pale photograph in today’s paper
reveal - the house on San Carlos Sound
where four girls and one other were born.
From where a grandfather ‘yomped’ five times-
on horseback, though - to Goose Green yet still
five times failed to bring the doctor in time for the birth.

In the palm of my hand I hold you all
Grandmother, daughters and the still-born child
kindly and well-meaning neighbours took
and buried in the garden - there is nowhere
else for the dead, in San Carlos - the child she
asked for when in sight of death
half a century later. The tusk is a keepsake.

What I hold in my hand has become the morse
code of history - a dash among all the dots
along San Carlos Sound that are the splashes
of high-burning Sheffield fragments
and exocetted sailors, soldiers burning
into the waters beside which the walrus died.

Did the buried child keep watch, its
own life denied, over your incandescent
deaths and sufferings? Did you disturb
in dying its eternal sleep? I look at the photograph
of empty moorland, at the walrus tusk,
which, carved with runes, might once have
hung around a neck to ward off evil
and know that the war of Thatcher’s Pride,
brought on by her stupidity that basked
in the light of The Sun’s Las Malvinas son nuestras
burned you to death. The child’s eyes
or peat-filled orbits could not open
on your high-tech deaths or simple drownings
in the cold waters of San Carlos Sound.
Only its silence could.

Once, to me, San Carlos was my summer -
your house in the Sussex downs
where my innocence stalked a blackbird
to within an inch or so before I remembered
I needed salt to put on its tail and ran
inside to fetch some. And the child shelling
peas with you knew nothing of the
other’s birth caul held to be a charm
to save a sailor from drowning and stolen
long ago from the San Carlos house. The tusk I can hold
and remember you by still changes more
in the palm of my hand than memory.

If I inscribed on it the names
of the daughters who lived, it could not efface
the mark I never knew was there until now,
the dash in history that encodes the runic silence
of all the dead of San Carlos Sound.


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