They’d been living on borrowed time
twelve years for the promise of one -
down here on the cracked heel of Europe
where they’d retired to grow their own
weed, feed twenty cats, turn their hands
to this and that. She grew fat, he thin,
before the ‘borrowed’ gin
got into her liver’s cells again.
Their life was making up and making do.
He’d built her a cottage - dirt floor, tin-roof -
that squatted on land they could never quite prove
was theirs. Pink plastered walls rubbed smooth
by his hands, curvy carved casements -
a competence of touch came with failing eyes.
A thieving magpie of the fixable,
he became a poet of possible uses.
He’d fend for us and filch from us,
‘borrowing’ our tools. We were fooled.
He came to the door and took our power
with a cable and pliers and lies
about how they could pay next week.
For five years their heat came from our meter.
Then the woodpile he helped us to stack,
wasn’t there when we got back.
He’d get loans from Yiannis to lubricate
Georgios. At Easter, he’d tend the spit,
baste, and carve us all mountains of meat.
Her strudels and kartoffeln salad,
his stories, our wine - they never touched
a drop, stuck to fizzy pop. Then,
in our absences - they had a key to feed the cat -
our gin would shrink, inch by inch.
As he nursed her, his blindness spared him
her smoked haddock skin, while his devotion
may have kept at bay how her mind lost its way,
meandered like sheep tracks in the Cretan hills.
He gave her a proper burial, in a graveyard
with views of mountains he could never see.
Then the bills came in, for the hospital,
the funeral he’d claimed he’d get for free.
At the end of the line, he tried one more time:
legs were seen flailing from our bathroom window,
at noon. We loaned him a phone to call the son
They were always the have-nots,
but now they’ve gone, less careful thieves
come, and all the stashed tools and mongery,
crockery, fallen birdcages, gilded frames
lie scattered like bones in an ossuary.
Unpruned branches of fern palm
have cordoned off the path. The prickly pear
has perished like rubber soles. An aloe
dangles from the wall - a complexity of claws
with nothing to cling onto. The bougainvillea
is still ablaze as if it meant to set the place on fire,
clean the slate. The hand-carved fence
is a blue electric shock of morning glory.