David Smith

The Last Piece

You taught me all I know about jigsaws,
how to shepherd the straight edges
and sift through the tones of blues and greys,
turning them into clouds and cliffs and seats.
All those churches, somebody’s local, a cricket pavilion.

On your tray, the thatched cottage stands unfinished,
just as it’s done for the past few weeks;
the open door, roses taking shape around the eaves.
It was where you were going to live if Dad had managed
to place eight little crosses in the right eight little squares.
Not much to ask, you’d have thought
yet every week you heard an excuse you never really understood:
how West Brom’s centre forward had missed a sitter
and you knew you would have to wait another week at least.
Now you talk about heaven in much the same way.

I take your hand. Your skin feels cold and smooth
like a snake’s. And like a snake you seem to be preparing
to shed something: calm, easy, natural.
You are dying like you have lived, not wanting to make a fuss.

And the jigsaw? I suppose there is always something left undone.
Someone will never find out who killed Roger Ackroyd. (It was the
doctor.)
In sheds everywhere chisels will lose their sharpness
and brushes stiffen in pots of curdling paint.
One day I will finish it in your memory,
twirling the last piece
like the card sharp in some black and white western saloon.

Today, though, let’s just sit here holding hands,
both of us knowing that it’s nearly complete.