Christopher Reid’s 2009 anthology A Scattering won many plaudits, all entirely deserved, including the overall Costa book award (which is very unusual for a book of poetry). It is an anthology of grief – poems written in the process and aftermath of Lucinda (his wife of 30 years) dying of cancer. But it is a wonderful, if deeply poignant, book. I found myself frequently shaken up and having to pause for long periods – which is precisely what the best poetry is meant to do. It’s full of beauty, humanity and above all the wonder of life.

Here is the first poem in the second section (called ‘The Unfinished’). It speaks powerfully, agonisingly, for itself.

The Unfinished

I

Sparse breaths, then none –
and it was done.

Listening and hugging hard,
between mouthings
of sweet next-to-nothings
into her ear –
pillow-talk-cum-prayer –
I never heard
the precise cadence
into silence
that argued the end.
Yet I knewit had happened.

Ultimate calm.

Gingerly, as if
loth to disturb it,
I released my arm
from its stiff vigil athwart
that embattled heart
and raised and righted myself,
the better to observe it.

Kisses followed,
to mouth, cheeks, eyelids, forehead,
and a rigmarole
of unheard farewell
kept up as far as the click of the door.

After six months, or more,
I observe it still.

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