I write quite a lot about death, and poems for people who have died, and this is a poem for a friend of mine called Meg Sheffield who died in 1997. She was very adventurous – she always made me feel like a total wimp – and a lot of the things she did would have involved possibly falling off things like horses or skis or out of boats or whatever. So that comes into the poem. Rather ironically, I suppose, her death involved being knocked off something – being knocked off her bicycle by a fifteen-year-old lad who had stolen his mother’s car and he came up behind her and killed her not-quite-instantly enough – she was in a coma for five days. It’s just called ‘For Meg’.
(i.m. Meg Sheffield, 1940-1997)
Half the things you did were too scary for me.
Skiing? No thanks. Riding? I’ve never learnt.
Canoeing? I’d be sure to tip myself out
and stagger home, ignominiously wet.
It was my son, that time in Kathmandu,
who galloped off with you to the temple at Bodnath
in a monsoon downpour, both of you on horses
from the King of Nepal’s stables. Not me.
And as for the elephants – my God, the elephants!
How did you get me up on to one of those?
First they lay down; the way to climb aboard
was to walk up a gross leg, then straddle a sack
(that’s all there was to sit on), while the creature
wobbled and swayed through the jungle for slow hours.
It felt like riding on the dome of St Paul’s
in an earthquake. This was supposed to be a treat.
You and Alex and Maya, in her best sari,
sat beaming at the wildlife, you with your camera
proficiently clicking. You were pregnant at the time.
I clung with both hot hands to the bit of rope
that was all there was to cling to. The jungle steamed.
As soon as we were back in sight of the camp
I got off and walked through a river to reach it.
You laughed, but kindly. We couldn’t all be like you.
Now you’ve done the scariest thing there is;
and all the king’s horses, dear Meg, won’t bring you back.