We’re currently featuring poems from some of the poets who made it to our 2019 shortlist. Next up is Stephen Claughton. Stephen’s poems have appeared widely in magazines both in print (Agenda, The Interpreter’s House, Iota, Magma, Other Poetry, Poetry Salzburg Review and The Warwick Review) and on line (Agenda Supplement, Ink Sweat & Tears, London Grip and The Poetry Shed). He has twice been nominated for the Forward Best Single Poem Prize.
“And can you tell me, please,
who is the current Prime Minister?”
You can’t, of course. It’s hard:
they change so often these days.
And anyway haven’t you always
had trouble remembering names?
I think of that rigmarole
you used to keep going through,
when you’d rattle off a roll-call
of all the family’s names,
including the dog’s (a bitch),
before you registered mine.
Of course, I’d like to believe you,
agree that it’s only your hearing,
or how the doctor speaks
that’s given you this bad score —
except that the other day
you asked me to meet your mother,
dead now for thirty years,
and think for some reason
I’m living in rural Wales.
It’s the same house your aunt once had.
You remember it clearly, you say,
from childhood holidays.
You’ve taken to leaving
on my voicemail at home.
When I realised it might be you,
I dialled to trace the call,
then rang you back myself.
“Did you try to phone me, Mum?”
“I don’t know.” There’s a pause.
“Perhaps I might have done.”
I recognise them now,
your recorded silences.
They’ve a quality all of their own,
a subtly different sound
from computers cold-calling me
or plain wrong numbers.
First, there’s a puzzled silence,
then a silent pause
and the clunk as you hang up.
You used to leave me tit-bits
from “The Times” – tips on things
such as etiquette or health.
I stopped listening years ago.
Only now you’ve nothing to say
do I strain to hear everything.
“Voicemail” was first published in Magma, No. 63