Poem of the Week 109

Going to See King Lear

Jackie Kay


On the big red smooth seat

I watch the giant television

And my mother’s eyes

Greedy, gulping everything down like chocolate raisins

In front of me are rows of heads

That put me in such a bad mood

Sleek shining page-boy, snobby at the back

Tight bossy bun, trapped in a net

Tall selfish beehive, blocking my view

Then all of a sudden darkness comes down

Sweet and will not melt in the hand or in the mouth

I am sitting with strangers

Just the shapes and silhouettes of them now

We breath in, all of us

In one breath waiting to be changed

To stop time or for the trailer to end

And King Lear begin

No children except me

Watching with mum

Who leans forward, her body diagonal

Her fury at good King Lear’s disloyal daughters

She whispers “Get out!” to the good one

Or “Don’t put up with that!”

I think it was Cordelia.

When King Lear’s Gloucester gets his eyes gouged out

My mother falls off her chair

I cover my eyes, too late, I’ve seen it

The terrible tormenting sight of a man’s hands over his helpless, scooped sockets

Staggering back to some other time of trust

Whilst those egg whites of his eyes run

“Vile jelly”

I shake, appalled

Lear foams whisked white at the mouth

“Jesus!” my mother says shocked

“That was good, that was so good!”

Her eye’s glint, green with pleasure

Deep sigh when the names appear and disappear

So slowly she rises from the red seat

“I had to see it, I did. What a good, good girl, sitting all quiet”

My mouth has fallen open for good

It won’t close.

I am seven,

I have seen Lear’s best friend get his eyes poked out

The red floor is sliding downwards.

I will fall into myself years later

Grown up velvet curtains drawn open.


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